For the past few months, chef Brian Baik has been hosting quiet Monday night tasting menus at Kobawoo House in Koreatown, a dinner series he calls Corridor 109. The name refers to the now-closed Parisian restaurant Passage 53, and Kobawoo’s sequel number in the bustling Vermont Avenue strip is small, and it’s meant to merge two big parts of Baik’s story. That’s because Baik’s family founded Kobawoo over 30 years ago, becoming world famous for their pork bossam and other traditional Korean dishes. The other part of the name is based on Baik’s experience in New York’s finest restaurants, from Eleven Madison Park, Brooklyn Fare and Bouley to most recently Sushi Noz.
These dinners are a bit of a test and a way to get the attention of Baik, who had considered opening his own modern Korean restaurant in New York before deciding to relocate to Los Angeles during the pandemic. Early menus extolled the potential of Baik’s cuisine, with pristine seafood sourced from Japan and Korea, as well as complex dishes that he and only one other cook prepare in Kobawoo’s kitchen.
Tastings only take place on Mondays as that is the only time the busy Korean restaurant is closed during the week. Enter through the kitchen side door to see a sparse, dimly lit dining room filled with chairs and tables blocking the main entrance. At the moment, dinners can only seat eight people per night, although Baik says they will eventually have two seats, doubling the number of diners to 16 every Monday.
The meal begins with a minced spot prawn and caviar tartlet with pickled egg yolk, sweet onions, wasabi and citrus fruits, a wonderful appetizer that gives way to a Jeju Island fluke with uni in citrus jelly, ginger and shiso oil. The highlight of the introductory courses is the Hokkaido iwashi toast, a beautifully sliced and lightly marinated Japanese sardine placed on top of a soft nigiri-sized piece of milk bread.
The dishes in between offer more of the seafood parade, Hokkaido scallop nestled in a rich spinach clam sauce and laced with herbaceous parsley oil. Yamaguchi red tuile fish swims amid a puddle of dashi anchovies, seaweed and turnips that would taste like a modern kaiseki meal while saba pesto pasta has a hint of grated ginger and white kelp marinated to gather the bright green spaghetti. The heavier carbs are a welcome course after a number of lighter dishes that came before it.
The final phase of the tasting begins with a bouillabaisse of rock fish and blue crab followed by an almost decadent Japanese abalone roasted, sliced, then placed over koshihikari risotto and black truffle. It ends with a single scoop of black tea ice cream. Overall, the experience is reminiscent of Benu’s early days in San Francisco, with polished French technique and playful precision using East Asian seafood as the main characters.
And there are certainly similarities to Providence and maybe N/Naka, although Baik’s style and minimalism are very much his own. For now, the menu seems to be more directly influenced by Baik’s time in New York, with more Japanese sashimi preparations and a streamlined presentation. Baik says he plans to make a version of his family’s famous bossam, though he admits that even with years of professional restaurant experience, he’s still unable to recreate the recipe exactly as his parents do.
As for the Korean character of the meal, Baik openly admits that it’s not really Korean food on the plate: “I try to incorporate Korean specialty ingredients whenever I can get them. And of course I have the influence of being Korean and growing up around [Kobawoo],” he says.
These first tastings of Corridor 109 are a window on the workshop period of a future gourmet restaurant. Baik has seen LA’s high-end scene rise in recent years, with the return of the Michelin guide and talented chefs coming to town to great acclaim. In terms of tasting menu locations, LA seems to be catching up with New York and San Francisco, with Baik seeing a lot of potential there with Kato, Hayato and N/Naka gaining worldwide recognition.
Corridor 109 also joins LA’s burgeoning Korean American scene, with Perilla, Shiku, Kinn, Hanchic, Tokki, Yangban Society and Majordomo developing a true LA perspective on modern Korean cuisine. And Baik is clearly interested in adding to the more refined foodie conversation than other young Asian American chefs like Mei Lin, Jon Yao, Zen Ong, Ki Kim, Nan Yimcharoen (from Kinkan), Minh Phan (from Phenakite) and Ryan Wong. (of Needle) have helped establish themselves in Los Angeles over the past few years.
Currently, dinners are held every Monday at Kobawoo. Check the restaurant’s Tock site for reservations. Normally the price is $150 per person, excluding tax and tip, with optional glasses of wine available for purchase. Dinner updates will also be posted on Instagram. With a solid resume, a historic K-Town location, and top-notch ingredients, Baik’s Corridor 109 adds something very compelling to the foodie world of Los Angeles.