moKo is the restaurant formerly known as Gyenari. Well, guess what? Gyenari is not coming back. There is a new kid in town, and I for one am thrilled. I love moKo! moKo is mellow and sedate. A mix of Dave Brubeck, Neil Diamond and The Beastie Boys plays unobtrusively in the background. moKo is a dim, classy place for when you want to avoid the hubub and be able to hear what your dining partner has to say. I want to host dinner parties and enjoy quiet, sexy dates there.
It would also be good for business meetings or when you want to size someone up. You can get people seriously wasted on the subtle sake cocktails. You can also gauge how worldly and adventurous they are without making them uncomfortable by confronting them with too unfamiliar of dishes. Yes, I’m sneaky like that.
The menu is divided up into traditional Korean categories, although the dishes themselves are definitely more fusion than not. The Anju (“drinking snacks”) are pickled vegetable dishes. Two of the top choices are Sweet Lotus, honey braised with sesame and soy, and Chiogga Beets sauteed with jujubes (dried red dates, not the candy) and apple smoked bacon.
Shrimp dumplings were plump and fresh, a delicious start to the evening. The foie gras dumplings, though promising, had more of a gamey flavor reminiscent of chicken liver than the rich silkiness of seared foie gras. The pork dumplings were rich if not particularly memorable. The kimchee dumplings were a pleasant surprise. Kimchee has always been too intense for me. This mellow version allowed me to enjoy the wonders of kimchee without the fermentation and fiery kick. If that makes me a pussy then too bad.
The rich and silky textures of the raw dishes are an extravagance, pure pleasure. The hamachi with yuzu citrus jus, pickled jalapenos and crisp garlic is the dish that will have me coming back. I told the manager, “You can pour yuzu on anything and I’ll eat it.” He gave me a funny look so I don’t know if I inadvertently insulted the quality of his fish, or if he was quietly imagining all of the things he could douse with yuzu. Tai Snapper in an Asian Pear Jus and Scallops with crispy leeks and red chili jang are also winners. Maybe the scallops win by a nose.
The delicate garnish speaks to the Chef Gary Robins’ knife skills, shredding the vegetables into ribbons as fine as hair.
Grilled Galbi Marinated Beef is as tender as a baby’s bottom, but the Crisped Pork Belly and Scallop is the most mind-blowing of all of the Kochi (skewers). The marinated pork is so tender it at first appears gelatinous like tofu, and gives to the teeth like fish, pairing perfectly with the scallop. The manager commented, “I told the chef that those would be running right out the door.” Well, if that skewer had jumped off of my plate and run out the door, I would have chased it down and tackled it right in the middle of Culver Boulevard.
The Jeon (pancake) is pressed flat and covered with toppings then cut to resemble a pan pizza. Its is both comforting and delicious. Another perfect dish for a rainy day is the Gaeran-Jjim, a ginger-scented egg custard with shrimp and crab, topped with a Parmesan toast.
A popular order will definitely be the Ssam (wrapped in jjin bahng). Especially if English speakers can get used to words beginning with double consonants. I searched jjin which seems to mean steamed, but bahng was a little more difficult. It was used in one context to mean steamed milk, once to mean baked, and is also a popular last name, leading me to an actress’ website. And here is another interesting bahng. The internet is not always the best source of information.
I have seen these jjin bahng, a sort of flattened bao, as a wrap for Peking duck in Chinatown instead of the usual flour-and-water pancakes. The Flying Pig and other food trucks recently popularized these little Asian “tacos” even influencing Wolfgang Puck’s offerings at one of his foodie events.
The Ssam fillings were gorgeous, plump shrimp, moist pork, spicy sausage, and a duck coated in a char-sui style sauce. I vote for the duck. You know, if anyone is counting ballots.
The dessert menu is not your standard tarte-tatin and cheesecake. A frozen lychee Parfait is similar to a semifreddo. Mixed in and sprinkled on top are the unconventional chili almond praline, ripe mango, orange mochi, and Thai basil syrup.
Another refresher is the Watermelon Ice with fresh fruit and ginger mint syrup.
Unfortunately both of these flavorful desserts were shunted to the side the minute the MoKo S’mores hit the table. Everything else became invisible. Almond crisps sprinkled with cinnamon shamed the usual Graham Crackers. Strawberry marshmallows had a very unpronounced strawberry flavor, but the orange-ginger were nice. The all-out winner were the anise marshmallows. E. Guittard chocolate was the glue that held it all together with refinement.
Although we were too stuffed to try the barbecue, we will be counting the days until we return…especially to see how they barbecue bone marrow.
DISCLAIMER: THIS WAS A COMPED PR DINNER. HOWEVER, I AM NOT SUCKING UP. IT WAS FANTASTIC!