Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Kogi BBQ: Off-Night or Overrated?
After hearing an earful of rave reviews from my friends, then reading about it in the food sections of every major newspaper imaginable, it was with some trepidation that I embarked on trying Kogi bbq, a much-hyped Korean taco truck. But truth be told, I wanted to like it. Honest to God. The verdict: overrated. Not worth the long wait.
Ok, let's assume they had an off-night (it was the Verde truck at UCLA). Highly possible, considering 1) they expanded to two trucks and static location so the chef is no longer making all of them and 2) quality control is diluted. That night, they had run out of what many consider their best items, short rib tacos and kimchi quesadilla. And their ultra-slow service left much to be desired.
But I digress. I had the spicy pork, chicken and tofu tacos as well as burrito. The biggest disappointment was that I could barely taste any of the meats because all three of them were literally drowned in this vinegary sauce that would have been a great in a much smaller dose. A touch of acidity combined with a hint of sesame oil would have been the perfect complement to the rather heavy and greasy meat -- much like one would combine daikon radish pickled in vinegar and a bit of sugar to counterbalance marinated ribs (kalbi) or spicy pork bbq (dueji kalbi or dueji bulgoki) found in many a Korean bbq restaurant. The two pictures above show three different kinds of tacos, but they all look the same. Well, unfortunately, they tasted the same too, with the tofu one being the biggest downer of them all. How can they even think about not frying the tofu cubes? That's flat-out wrong. This isn't cottage cheese, people! The cold, watery tofu cubes didn't help in making the tacos any less drippy than they already were, totally smothered in the vinegary sauce.
What happened? I think in the haste of assembling these babies, the folks just squirted this sauce away without much thought. I was looking forward to tasting the great quality meat everyone was raving about, the juicy spicy pork morsels wrapped in a tortilla blanket with crunchy lettuce and green onions. Instead I got one big mush that tasted like an overdressed salad.
Then there were coordination and service issues even though I didn't expect it to be a well-oiled machine. Guy taking the order didn't know they had run out of kimchi quesadilla until the guy giving out the food called out our names and said they were out. "Do you want a burrito?" Sure. What choice did we have? We had waited for over an hour, were cold and were pretty much starving (not to mention suffering from a backache). I don't even know what was in that burrito. The few bites were unremarkable except for a very large and spicy piece of kimchi that I bit into. Then I tasted it again -- that pesky vinegary sauce. Argh.
I'm not a hater. I'm planning on checking out the famous rib taco and kimchi quesadilla at the Alibi Room in Culver City, where I won't have to wait in line for so long or at least be warmer.
And what's with the kimchi chopping and basic prep action happening once they park at a location? Couldn't they do all that prep work ahead of time, like before they even start their routes? Maybe they need to poach some workers from Tito's Tacos because even though I'm not a fan of Tito's by any stretch, there's something to be said for the quick and solid service despite the very long lines there.
My advice to Kogi: post your menu prominently even though most everyone can check on their PDAs or iPhones while waiting or know ahead of time what to get. The biggest pet peeve: folks who would ask at the counter what was on the menu. Come on, people, do your homework for crying out loud! Don't hold up the line or you'll have some very angry and hungry people on your back. The little Korean touches like the shikhe (Korean horchata) and individually-packed Choco pies were cute.
So, you won't see me at another truck location but I may just stop by Alibi, if nothing else to try their exclusive items only served there such as torta and specials of the day, etc. (beer and comfy seats may help). Actually, upon reading the menu at Alibi, I'm very much tempted to check it out soon. Haven't written Kogi off just yet but I may have to urge them to keep a tighter leash on quality control since their very longevity depends on it. We don't want this to be just a passing fad, do we?
The Korean-Mexican fusion trend is certainly catching on quickly. Check out this sign caught at La Taquiza, an old-school Mexican joint near USC. With copycats galore, this may just be the biggest thing since sliced bread!
12236 Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066