When the semifinalists for the James Beard Award for best new restaurant in America were announced a few months ago, all the expected players were present and accounted for: the big, the prestigious, the expensive. But there was one restaurant on the list that was unlike any others. It’s called Baroo and it’s a place so different that it’s difficult to know where to even begin the discussion.
Because Baroo only has one proper table, and no sign over the door. In fact, the only thing that marks the business is the faded etching from the Thai restaurant that used to occupy the space. Moreover, the restaurant serves a type of food — experimental fermentation cuisine with Korean, Italian, and vegan influences — that most people never even knew existed. All while being located in a part of Los Angeles that can most charitably be described as “not the kind of place you would expect experimental fermentation cuisine.”
Most improbably of all, the entire restaurant only has two employees: head chef Kwang Uh and his business partner/sous chef/waiter/college buddy Matthew Kim.
When I first walked into Baroo, Chef Kwang wasn’t even in the restaurant. Two minutes later, he jogged through the doors, out of breath, clutching a package of napkins from a nearby liquor store. This man ran from his own kitchen, during service, to buy napkins. Not because he was too nice to send a lackey, but for the simple reason that no lackey exists. How many other James Beard-nominated chefs would make a napkin run in the middle of service?
Despite its many quirks, this restaurant, on Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilton, sandwiched between the glitzy faux grime of Silver Lake, and the grimy faux glitz of Hollywood, still deserved its place amongst the other nominees. Because Baroo — weird, small, and impractical though it may be — is one of the best and most exciting restaurants I have eaten at in my entire life. And it costs less than the Cheesecake Factory.
Historically, I’ve always liked kimchi, but more for the challenge of consuming it than for the actual pleasure of eating. I typically view each leaf of that spicy, squeaky cabbage as a palette-shredding test of my resolve; each bite another opportunity to answer the question that has haunted mankind since the invention of cabbage: am I really going to let a goddamn leaf defeat me?