Wharo : Modern Seoul Style Dishes for a Romantic Like Me

When Wharo opened up their Westside Los Angeles Korean Barbeque restaurant in 2004, I had tried it only once. Of course, I remembered that it was good, even for a vegetarian like me.

There were plenty of healthy vegetarian options, and yet, 2004 was the year I was pregnant with my second child, my daughter. During my pregnancy, at that particular time, I was really into making scones. I made homemade scones in the morning, with butter and jam, and ate them out on my patio in the morning sun. It was also the year that I had very close Korean friends (that were also restauaranteurs) and dined with them at various Korean restaurants in the heart of Koreatown. I was the only non-Korean, which was certainly exciting to have personal access to such places that I would otherwise not go, due to my lack of knowledge of Hangul. Also, being vegetarian. But my Korean friends were determined to turn me into a fish-eater at least. Well, I did eat fish, their fish, and sometimes only fish at their restaurant. I was particular about what fish I liked to eat. And I had another reason.

That was the year I developed an inconsolable crush on the head sushi chef at my friends' restaurant. I ate broiled fish, I ate baked salmon, baked lobster and succulent shrimps, crabmeat and clams. Sometimes I had no idea what I was eating, and didn't ask nor care. After my daughter was born, I ate every kind of sushi my sweetheart chef made for me, even uni. I would have eaten the dangerous fugu if he presented it to me. I had a thing for that sushi chef, worth risking my life. So, as you can imagine, I was no longer a serious vegetarian.

This chef, a tall, broad shouldered Korean man, had the most beautiful face a man could have. Despite his handsome good looks, he was a gifted chef, a true artiste. No matter what he made, I could tell it was made by his hands. The other chefs, assistants to his talented knife and expert hands, just did not come close to his ability. It was obvious when another chef made something that ended up on my plate, although as the head chef would have it, no one else made fish for me but him. The flirtation between us two was a love affair using food as our conversations, our sensual longing transfused by his artful creations and my eating them. There was once a night when he prepared "bouquets" of fish, delicate slivers, bundled into little bouquets with "flowers" of daikon sprouts, expertly held together by a thin strip of soy paper. These bouquets were intricate and marvelous.

But the moment I remember with great fondness was the night he made me pajyun.

My sensual chef served me at my table, rather than at a sushi bar. Kneeling before me, he looked directly into my eyes and softly asked, “What would you like tonight?” My answer could have been lusty and direct, but that would have ruined the magic. He flirted with me through food. It was as delicate as his sweet shrimp and baby lobster roll, as luxurious as his creamy sauces.

And so I will never forget the rainy night when I entered the warm candlelit interior of the restaurant, damp from the rain. I was hungry. I had just spent several hours in my Japanese language class, and drove across the city, stomach grumbling, dizzy with hunger. The restaurant was quiet that night. Just the few waitstaff, the bartender, and me at my table. I was alone with my chef. I could see him from my table through the open space of the kitchen, in his indigo dyed yukata, his broad shoulders, his head wrapped with the same color “hachimaki” (head bandana). His face was illuminated by the indigo dyed fabric, smiling at me from the kitchen. He came out and asked me if I was especially hungry. Of course I was about to faint. Swooning.

“I know just what to make for you,” he said, his warm hand pressed against my hand, and he was off into the kitchen.

As he bustled around the kitchen, he was a magician. There was something unusual going on. The sound of the rain, droplets on the windows sparkling with the lights from neon signs, the busy street, the interior candles. glimmering. The sounds of clanging pans and stainless steel bowls. He was not wrapping rolls or cutting fish, but using the stove. I noticed the shape of his body far off in the kitchen, doing something with a pan.

He returned with a plate of the most fragile lacy crepes, pahjun, "pajyun" or “pajeon”, made with scallions and other julienned vegetables inside a warm thin pancake. They are also known as authentic Korean “boochoo jyun” (chive pancake). They arrived by his hands before me, the glorious scent, our eyes meeting over the dish, his gaze spiced with heat. He explained that I use my hands, gesturing to mine, a slight touch to my skin, his fingers to his luscious mouth, he said, “just dip and eat.”

The pajyun came with a dipping sauce that was fragrant and sweet— he had made it himself. He told me it had ginger, sesame, garlic. Something sweet also. Love? Desire?

At Wharo, sitting across from my husband, in July of 2010, I am ordering pajyun. In fact, I asked for two orders of it; chives jyun and vegetable pajyun. They aren't handmade by my flame, but the savory pancakes arrived hot and crispy, served on baskets lined with paper. The dipping sauce is light and flavorful.

It was the night of Fourth of July. We were very hungry, and as usual when I go to Wharo, I ordered up a feast.

We had chive jyun and vegetable pajyun, tofu salad, vegetables and meats to grill. We had kim chi sides, chap chae noodles, beef Kalbi, and sanchu and samjang, sliced garlic with butter. My youngest child, my three year old girl, was dining with us that night, as my other two children were at friends' houses, so we ordered the kid's meal of chicken and corn. The seaweed soup looked tempting, and the vegetable bibimbop is always my standard fare. The last time we had dinner at Wharo previous to the one I am telling you about, I burned my arm on the hot stone bowl, the faint scar on the inside of my left forearm still bearing the mark. It is faintly pink and has the imprinted brand of the pattern of the bowl's hot edge.

The chive jyun were the best.

Wharo has become a favorite place. The meals are delicious, with quality ingredients and superb service. Since they originally opened, I think the food has improved with time, or perhaps my senses have refined themselves to appreciate Korean meals. About Wharo:

Wharo refers to an old charcoal stone-pot which brought together families and friends. We want to continue this symbolism at Wharo so families can sit around to eat and share memories.

Wharo was founded in 2004 with the passion and inspiration to introduce quality and health conscious-friendly Korean food on the Westide of Los Angeles. The owner, Mijin Namgoong, had noticed that her non-Korean friends and colleagues loved Korean food but had no location to embrace it on the Westside. Mijin took that idea and decided to open a Korean restaurant that would complement the active and health conscious community of the Westside.

Our other dishes arrived... the kim chi...

and other dishes like the chap chae noodles... I asked for them vegetarian style.

and the tofu salad...

our grill with the vegetables and meats...

the "healthy rice"...

a feast for the senses...

we enjoyed iced green tea with our meal... refreshing and healthy.

For dessert: Potbingsu. A traditional summertime dessert made of shaved ice, fruit, condensed milk, sweet red beans & ice cream. We tried to take some good photos as it melted... of course, while taking bites of the cold creamy dessert.

WHARO KOREAN BBQ

4029 Lincoln Blvd., Marina del Rey, CA 90292

P: 310.578.7114 F: 310.578.7112