Wednesday, June 29, 2011

MoKo (Culver City, CA)

When Gyenari wasn't going in the direction they envisioned, the owners decided to shutter the restaurants and re-open as MoKo (Modern Korean), which takes the food in a whole new direction.

Duck and Foie Gras Dumplings
Pan fried duck and foie gras dumplings w/ sour cherry sauce ($12)

IMG_1296I was pleasantly surprised by the cocktails here. My favorite was the Thai Basil Cooler ($11): Thai basil, Damrak gin, St. Germain, lemon, and agave. The thai basil gave it a stronger aroma than your usual basil and blends well with the herbal notes of the gin. (PS. they have $5 drinks during "social hour" from 5-7 pm every day).

I also liked the MoKo Punch ($18 carafe, $40 bowl): soju, vodka, persimmon cinnamon tea, watermelon, pineapple. Perfect for a big party.
IMG_1291
Yes, they charge for "banchan" here ($7.50 for 3) but they're not your regular banchan. If you want your money's worth then skip the kimchi and radish, instead go with the Chiogga beets (sauteed with jujubes and apple smoked bacon), asparagus namul (barley, pea shoots, and crisped garlic), asian pear and kholrabi salad, lotus roots braised in honey, or purple eggplant namul (gochujang, green onions, and sesame).
Banchan
True, I wouldn't pay $2.50 for a bowl of kimchi, but $2.50 for a bowl of beets, asparagus, or lotus root is pretty cheap if you ask me. I know you've all paid your share of $8-12 beet salads.

While MoKo is not cheap, it wouldn't be fair to compare them to Koreatown places, as they do not serve traditional Korean food. As is the case with many restaurants, some dishes are better value than others. People keep complaining about the $9 for 3 shrimp dumplings here, but seems like I was the only one complaining about the $12 for 3 chicken wontons at Lukshon. In both places, the answer is simple: order wisely. Here are some of the dishes I enjoyed:
Raw scallops, crispy leeks, red chili jang ($11)
Scallop Crudo
From the series of crudo we tried, the scallop was perhaps my favorite (the hamachi was also very good). I loved the chewy texture and the red chili jang, while not that spicy, was flavorful.
Shrimp and crab jeon, asparagus, green onions, avocado, and spicy asian greens ($15). Note that the photo below is after half the table has dug in, not the full size!
Shrimp Jeon
I always like Korean pancakes, but many times I encounter soggy ones. The jeon here is hot and crispy and was a great bed for the fresh shrimp.

Crisped pork belly and scallop, minted grapefruit, aji amarillo jang and micro arugula ($12)
Scallop Pork Belly Skewer
Tender scallops sandwiched between two crisped pork belly. What else do you need?

If you like egg custard at Korean restaurants, be sure to try Gaeran-jjim (ginger scented egg custard with shrimp, crab, and parmesan crisp - $12)
Egg Custard
The custard itself is smooth and creamy, the ginger warms your body, and it is chock full of crab and shrimp. Don't expect the light flavors of chawan mushi though, this custard here is quite rich.

For the ssam, you can choose your four proteins wrapped in bao/buns. The grilled prawns (with grilled onions and aji amarillo jang) are $5 each while the sesame duck confit (with mango and ginger aioli and chipotle jang) and pork belly are $6 each. I like the filling but I think I would've enjoyed them more wrapped in lettuce to help cut the fatty meat on top of even fattier aioli.
Buns
I hear they will do a smaller version of the buns for the bar also.

Since there is a tabletop grill after all for korean bbq (which we didn't try), it makes sense to have S'mores on the dessert menu, which at MoKo comes with housemade marshmallows (in three different flavors) and housemade graham crackers.
Smores

I have yet to try their green tea parfait (which apparently is very popular), so my favorite so far is the Lychee Semifreddo. Imagine a lychee-flavored block of snow melting in your mouth as you eat it with the crunchy nuts and the tart fruits underneath.
Lychee Semifreddo

I was overall happy with MoKo's interesting take on Korean food and the major improvement over Gyenari. People have a hard time paying for "expensive asian food" in this town, probably due to the proximity of Koreatown and SGV. I like my cheap finds and I don't enjoy getting ripped of, but why stereotype the asian cuisine as "cheap" ?
MoKo is not really Korean food, simply Korean-inspired, and the food is good. It is on the expensive side and you may walk out with a bill over $50, but if you're willing to pay $26 for a bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil, why not $12 for 6 pieces of pork belly and scallops?



MoKo
9540 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 838-3131
www.mokorestaurant.com
MoKo on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: This meal was hosted.

2 comments:

Jin

yummy. i can't wait to try it. i wished they'd rename their restaurant though. moko or moco is boogers in spanish (or at least in bolivia). but then again, we have an awesome drink there called mocochinchi so go figure.

gourmetpigs

Haha that's actually pretty funny :p hopefully it doesn't bring out unpleasant imageries for you!

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