I admit that I smoke pot from time to time. I have a prescription for medical marijuana and about once a month I buy an ounce of good grass (for $400+) from a nice pharmacy in West Hollywood. In the evening a few tokes on a joint before bedtime, along with an Ambien, and I can get a few good hours of sleep. All of this came to mind when I entered Chef Roy Choi's new Korean restaurant, POT (213-368-3030), located in the lobby of the new Line Hotel in Koreatown, 3135 Wilshire Blvd. at Normandie. The lighted green-neon POT sign at the small all-black foyer entrance to the eatery was similar to the signs seen at every pot shop around town. Roy says, "I want people to stumble in here thinking it is a pharmacy." Once you get into the restaurant however, there's nothing similar between it and any pot shop in town. Rather, it looks like an ugly industrial hospital commissary, with glass-front counters. Ughh. (Curiously, Chef Choi is about to open a restaurant atop the hotel patio called Commissary, which I understand will be heavy on vegetarian dishes.) I was here on Friday night with my stalwart reviewing group because I had been reading so much about Choi's new POT place that my curiosity got the better of me. The New York Times in June devoted a two-page spread to the chef, his new hotel and restaurant, and then Jonathan Gold in the LA Times and Besha Rodell in LA Weekly recently reviewed the restaurant. A week ago I attended a terrific "Oyster and Champagne" pool party thrown by Sam Jagger at his superb MR C HOTEL, and the suave South African-born hotel manager introduced me to his friend and fellow South African, Gary Thomas, the G.M. of the above-mentioned Line Hotel. I mentioned that I was interested in reviewing Roy's new restaurant and Gary arranged for me to get the difficult reservation for the following Friday. So here we were, four hungry, eager and curious folks.
A word about the 44-year old Choi, whose amazing career is the essence of a Southern California success story. Fired from a chef's job at a fine eatery, he and a friend created the first celebrated food truck, Kogi, traveling the town serving up tacos stuffed with Korean barbeque to a huge audience of receptive eaters who followed him on Twitter. He then opened several brick-and-morter restaurants, including Chego in Chinatown. My companions, Penny McTaggart and David Rapoport, told me that they often dine at his A-Frame in Culver City, usually ordering beer can chicken. My Huffington readers may recall that I wrote here the very first review in America of Jon Favreau's new film, CHEF, which I loved. Roy was a consultant to it and even appears briefly in it. The New York Times reported that his partner in Manhattan's Sydell Group, Andrew Zobler, raised $50 million to gut and renovate this new hotel. Roy is quoted as saying, "I wanted to create a hotel where no one stops you if you walk into the lobby in shorts and sneakers." Actually, I was wearing jeans and sneakers and no one thought to stop me. I kind of wish they had.
POT is serving the Korean street food and home cooking he had growing up. But first, the décor. There is none, It is a long, unattractive low-ceilinged room with several tables, each with an induction heating element in the center. No napkins, rather rolls of paper sit on each table. There are cotton bibs for those who don't want to dirty their clothes. Hidden in the recesses of the table are individual bowls, chopsticks, and metal water cups. The music is throbbing gangsta rap. Almost unbearable.
The menu is printed on a Korean newspaper sheet. It features lots of hot pots. I had read the menu on-line before coming, so I immediately ordered a handful of dishes from the terrific waitress, Shashona, and as I turned to speak to my friend, Jill Kossow, the dishes arrived at the table. No kidding, less than a minute. Did they read my mind as I entered...or were they sitting on a steam table? Korean potato pancakes ($11), like latkes but without their flavor (onions), to be dipped into a soy dipping sauce. Kimchee fried rice ($10)...spicy, fried 'til it had a crust on the bottom. The burnt crust was the best part of the dish.
I read Roy's comment that this was his 'soul food.' I doubt his soul is as hit-or-miss as the food. Our waitperson told us that there was a 'special' of Santa Barbara Spot Prawns ($22), which we ordered. Small, overcooked in the shell, overpriced. Awful. Barbequed vegetables ($9), Kat Man Doo ($9), steamed dumplings, better at almost any other place in town. The Beep Beep ($16) rice bowl was somehow not available, which I regretted since it contained uni, my passion. The best dish was "The Shorty" hotpot ($36), galbi jjim, with a slab of meltingly soft short rib galbi, chestnuts and dates, carrots and turnips, and a broth so delicious I took some home. At the next table, the young girl who plays Don Draper's daughter on "Mad Men" was sitting with a bunch of girlfriends. One of their dishes was the Boot Knocker ($26, 45, 56), budae jjigae, a dish I know as "military stew" since it supposedly originated on U.S. Army posts in Seoul....containing hot dogs, Spam, canned corned beef hash , spicy Vienna sausages....understandably, no one at her table was eating it. There is a spicy crab pot called "Redondo Beach" (($35, 65, 86), which I did not experience (and never will.) The menu describes the various 3 hotpot sizes: With a friend/A Few is More than Two/ Group Love.
The drinks were good, pricey. Had two Soju cocktails, both $13, one was a kimchee version and the other a curry. Penny had a glass of G-Tissot Chardonnay ($14), while David had two Hite draft beers ($6 each).
Will I ever come back here? I doubt it. Perhaps to the Line Hotel to review his new Commissary Restaurant, if he allows me in after this review.
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