Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kogi - Los Angeles, Ca

There're trends. There're innovations. There's novelty. There's quality. Often, a restaurant achieving two of those four benchmarks will enjoy fabulous success. A novel concept will retain its clientele if the quality is good. A trendy restaurant can endure if it continues to innovate. A restaurant with a quality product can persevere without any of the other three criteria but it can't hurt to throw in a bit of novelty and innovation here and there, at least to please a prick like me (c.f. Chez Panisse Cafe).

So it's kinda surprising that a weird little quirky taco truck mastered all of those benchmarks, did it quickly, and capitalized on it vigorously.

I'm no fan of trends or bandwagons. I'm a skeptic to the very core. You really have to prove to me why you're so freakin' awesome, I'm not just going to accept it. Point is, I never sought out Kogi. It sounded kinda cool but it also sounded like relatively simple street food, albeit kinda unconventional: Korean meat and accompaniments presented in the charming aesthetics of an East LA taco truck.

What we see with Kogi is the perfect confluence of events. It launched in Los Angeles, a city unequaled in the nation in terms of its street food (fuck you New York). It launched during a recession when value dining was at peak demand. And it shrewdly utilized social networking (especially Twitter) to (artifically?) generate a cult demand for its product. The result? What was a quirky experiment in fusion cuisine became a regional sensation with national coverage. A phenomenon that tore up the food blogs for almost a year. Motherfucking Kogi.

I give Kogi massive credit for taking up residence at the Alibi Room in Culver City. Most of us who aren't total trendy douche bags find something weird about waiting two hours for a taco truck, so knowing that we can go to a fixed location and get most of the offerings on a regular basis is a very good thing.

So it was that I met up with Hollywood Legend Kenny at Costco in Venice (he was getting his tires rotated) and we had two hours to kill, so I proposed hitting up the Alibi Room for some Korean BBQ Taco Action which, coincidentally, is the title of my current adult film project.

We showed up early--5:30 when the bar opens--so we knew we'd have to wait for our food. But, showing up as early as possible is key as the Alibi Room quickly filled up and 99% of the patrons were eating Kogi. A good number were eating Kogi and drinking nothing but water, so I wonder how much the Alibi Room is really making in this relationship.

The Alibi Room is a nice space. Lots of room, big bar, comfy lounge areas. Not a bad way to kill a half-hour before our food arrived. Good beer selection and friendly staff too. Kenny and I both ordered taco combos (chicken, pork, short rib) and we shared an order of sliders (short rib) and a kimchi quesadilla.

Did I mention I was a skeptic? I am. I really freaking am. It's easy to get my respect but pretty damn hard to earn my admiration.

So knowing that, I say without qualification: Kogi was fucking good. Really fucking good. Really really fucking good.

I mean, it's the perfect fusion of cuisine. What is Korean bbq? Meat and pickled shit. What's a good street taco? Meat and pickled shit. Throw in some cilantro and they're basically the same cuisine except for skin color and math aptitiude.

I'm sorry I'm a racist.

Tacos: really nice. I actually kinda like how they griddle the tortillas so that they're vaguelyslightlykindacrisp. Short ribs were, as most have reported, the best. Tender, meaty, and vibrantly flavorful. Spicy pork was also very good, though not particularly spicy. Chicken was excellent but, compared to the other two meats, it just didn't shine. It's like being Scarlett Johansson in the same room as Anne Hathaway and Zooey Deschanel: excellent doesn't hold up against spectacular (unless you're showing off your ass at the beginning of Lost in Translation--that's spectacular with a capital T--but Kogi's chicken isn't Scarlett Johansson's ass, it's Megan Fox's ass, nice but not splooge-worthy).

Kimchi quesadilla: Also very very delicious. Good cheese, well made, excellent non-gas-inducing kimchi, and nicely griddled tortilla. A surprising highlight of the meal.

The sliders: the only dud. Mediocre roll. Great meat. Too much cheap cheese. I wouldn't kick it out of bed, but why get the middling sliders when you can get superb tacos for the same price?

Which brings me to the matter of price. Even here, in residence, Kogi tacos were eminently reasonable. Three tacos were $7 and in a town where it's hard to find a delicious diarrhea-inducing street taco for less than $1.75, that ain't bad. $2.333333333 for a taco that you're able to enjoy in a cushy chair? That's an extra $0.5833333333333 well spent.

So I guess that every now and then something comes around that is both worthwhile and trendy. Unlike Goa or Pet Rocks, Kogi provides a real quantitative value and it appears to have launched imitators (Chinese fusion tacos, fine-dining food trucks) which will ensure that Kogi's legacy lives on.

Kogi Korean BBQ
@Alibi Room
12236 Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066


TonyC said...

Not sure where you're eating your street tacos but... We did a quick cruise on Tuesday in Boyle Heights/EasLos... Nothing over $1 for even the biggest pile of lengua/cabeza.

David J.D. said...

I guess my street tacos are in Echo Park and downtown. Some of them are 3 for $5. For the more expensive meats too, I suppose. Not a big cabeza guy.

Randy said...

God, I would have killed to see the Vlog Star getting his tires rotated.