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Exceptional, inventive dishes at Baroo, a tiny Hollywood standout, embody the best of strip mall dining in LA.
Underground—or at least understated—dining has come to be a point of pride for both LA restaurants and the diners who frequent them. A hole-in-the-wall sushi spot, a pop-up dinner party, a restaurant manned by a revered chef but without any actual signage—secrecy, in some form or another, now seems to generate as much interest as farmers’ market produce and avocado toast.
Baroo does not have a sign indicating its presence. The small, minimalist space is in a Hollywood strip mall, steps away from Zumba studios and the Hollywood cemetery. Chef and owner Kwang Uh (who worked at the acclaimed Noma) and his friend Matthew Kim are the only two employees here; on a recent night, Uh took our order, cooked the food and acted as our server, all while hopping back and forth between the kitchen and register. It is astounding, then, that such phenomenal food can come out of such a frenetic environment. Fermentation, as well as local and sustainable ingredients, presides over most dishes—a pickle sampler lets you choose from veggies like shiso beet, curry cauliflower, kimchi and sweet potatoes, and arrives in small scoops that you may or may not have trouble picking up with chopsticks. A bowl of kimchi fried rice (gluten-free and vegetarian, as are most of Baroo’s dishes) is a beautiful mess of pineapple fermented kimchi, basmati rice, a wobbling sous vide egg and a kaleidoscope of color: yellow pineapple salsa, purple potato chips and forest green seaweed.
Color, in fact, seems to dominate most dishes here. A bibim salad takes on a Nickelodeon-esque quality with dollops of neon green herbs coulis and orange gochujang and san marzano dressing. A layered forkful might include quinoa and bulgur, magenta radish slices and passion fruit powder—there is so much going on, that after a while you’d be wise to surrender to the flavors and stop trying to identify everything. Of the non-vegetarian dishes, I was floored by Baroo’s ragu style, a tangle of homemade pappardelle topped with oxtail ragu and cherry tomatoes and accompanied by airy tendon puffs. When Uh emerged from the kitchen to collect our demolished plate, my compliments seemed to make him want to retreat further into the restaurant. So after the passion fruit tart—a dreamy creation of macha yuzu chiffon, passion fruit curd and elderflower meringue—I just gave him a small wave before leaving. Praise doesn’t seem to be the end goal for Uh’s tiny, remarkable restaurant in Hollywood—but I can’t help but heap it on Baroo anyway.
What to Eat: The bibim salad ($9). The kimchi fried rice ($9). The Baroo's ragu style ($15). The passion fruit tart ($7).
What to Drink: A few shelves in the back of Baroo hold jars and canisters of fermented fruits, vegetables and teas, depicting a scene that looks like something out of Frankenstein’s lab. The results, though, are far more palatable, including an array of kombucha ($3) that diners can pluck from a small fridge near the cash register. Lemon verbena offers a healthy acidic kick, while elderflower, rose and passion fruit, and raspberry all lean towards the sweeter side. There is also coffee from Bicycle Coffee.
Where to Sit: Wherever you can find room. A communal table and a few stools against the counter are your only options—if those fill up, consider the curb outside.
5706 Santa Monica Blvd
|Opening hours:||Tue-Sat 11am-9pm; Sun 5-9pm|
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