Apr 2, 2010
Leggo My Chego! Soon to be the Hottest Bowl in Town. Chego! Los Angeles, CA.
Chego! & Cherub!
The story behind the name "Chego!" pronounced "chweh-go" is that it's a Korean language exclamation to the universe of absolute delight and pleasure expressed for the food you're eating. Alice Shin (Kogi & Chego!) breaks it down like this, "...it's so friggin' good and it makes you so friggin' happy, you don't have any words for it." I couldn't have not described it better myself. That's Chego!
Apart from the unbridled declaration of deliciousness, the real story behind Chego! the restaurant is that it's brimming with stories and not just about food. Chego!'s dining room is lined with shelves displaying tchotchkes and memorabilia donated by family, friends and fans. Chef Roy Choi's LA ballcap (the one he wore the first night Kogi was officially on the streets) sits under a donated Pee Herman doll and a donated copy of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas LP. The room is like a scrapbook of memories and an homage to everyone who has been a part of Kogi whether as an employee or devotee.
Roy Choi, Mark Manguera, Caroline Shin and the rest of the Kogi family have teamed up once again to tantalize Los Angeles with a new culinary concept to "chillax" with "peasant food from the soul." Only this time there are bricks and mortar involved, and this time it ain't tacos.
When other established restaurants like Umami Burger and The Border Grill muscled into the food truck scene, the Kogi BBQ Truck crew rooted down in Palms on Overland Avenue near Culver City, reversing the pattern by setting up shop on terra firma and being the first of the new wave food trucks to do so.
Chef Roy Choi directing traffic.
However, instead of going the obvious and easier route of adapting Kogi into a sit-down spot, Chef Roy Choi wanted to offer Kogi's enormous 60,000 strong twitter following something special. Something new, fresh and reimagined. Something simple yet inventive. Something cheap (all bowls are between 7 and 9 bucks). Something like a rice bowl.
But, they're not just any rice bowls. These bowls are put together with much thought and constructed with technique behind them. Every ingredient carefully balanced with another. Korean staples like kimchi revamped via caramelization to surprise the eater like Chef Roy did with the legendary Kogi taco.
Insane in the membrane or brilliance in a bowl? Cooking comida loca is what Chef Roy Choi is all about, so get used to it.
Great balls of Kogi!
The story begins in the "Beginning" where you'll find all the appetizers. The 3PM Meatballs immediately tickled my meaty bone. Three globular units of Korean fried ground pork and beef with chopped green onions, shredded herb, julienned red peppers, a sprinkling of sesame seeds on a delicate cushion of polenta. It's a hearty Asian meatball with a kick. Flavor Flav is in the house!
Roy's 3PM Meatballs is all about comfort food. A Chinese dumpling without the wrapper, the 3PM Meatball is a shout out to all the Asian mothers who sat around dishing while assembling dumplings as their Americanized kids eavesdropped trying to decipher what they were saying. It's as American as naturalization.
Salad for the people!
The so-called $12 Salad actually will set you back $7. It's dense with baby spinach, peppery mizuna, creamy-mild goat cheese, dried cranberries, meaty pecans, pickled watermelon radish and a miso dressing. This is a well-balanced salad with a blend of sweet, umami and peppery flavors and plenty of crunchy, creamy and roughagey texture to satisfy. A nice value for the ingredients and a dis to all the overpriced hotel salads Chef Roy had to toss back in his own salad days.
Hey, your kimchi fell into my butter!
Korean-American kids growing up in the States didn't snack like the other kids did. They didn't nosh on grilled cheese sandwiches or tater tots. For guys like Chef Roy, it was nothing but kimchi fried rice.
The "Middle" of this food tale showcases the mains. Buttered Kimchi Chow is Chef Roy's delicious journey back to the sandbox. Only this time around, he uses steamed organic white rice and caramelizes the kimchi separately in butter. Another friendly little pat of butter is added on top as it flies out the kitchen so that it melts over the hot rice, gaenip, soy beans, red tofu, red peppers, cracklin' chicharrones, and fried egg right before landing in front of you.
Next, you lustfully mix it for yourself, breaking the rich egg yolk, fusing the disparate flavors of spicy, sweet, tangy, salty, savory into one bold unified taste. A deep smokiness is added to the flavor symphony with a grilled pork belly upgrade. The kaleidoscope of flavors is equally matched in textures, from crispy to creamy to chewy. It's all represented in one recyclable, biodegradable bowl. The concept of "Chego!" now becomes as clear as crystal.
One Chubby Pork Belly Bowl is Chef Roy's love letter to char siu or Chinese BBQ. As a kid, he'd cruise over to Sam Woo BBQ and stand mesmerized at the sight of the glistening hanging ducks and lacquered pork. Then as fate would have it, the first kitchen Kogi inherited belonged to a Chinese restaurant. With an old Chinese oven already installed, one of the very first things Roy made was a red, lacquered slab of pork belly.
Layered with intoxicating and fragrant herbs and greens like Thai opal basil, cilantro, Chinese broccoli and water spinach, One Chubby Pork Belly Bowl continues to pile on the goodness with chunks of "kochujang-lacquered and lovingly glazed over 12 times" pork belly, the requisite fried egg, crushed peanuts and is fired up with Chef Roy's own spicy sambal sauce. Even with all these powerful profiles of pungent, peppery, spicy, sweet and savory, it never becomes a clash of titanic flavors. Instead, it's a great, big, tasty group hug with flavors and textures intermingling for the most enjoyable of eating experiences.
I wanna rock with you.
The "End" of this story is a happy one. Rock Yer Road takes your daddy's Rocky Road ice cream to a new, more delicious level. Freshly made chocolate ice cream topped with smoked almonds, brownie bits, caramel, homemade marshmallow fluff and love. It's another fine example of layering flavors and textures, only this time as dessert. If you love ice cream, Rock Yer Road will rock your world.
Chego! calls their food "peasant food from the soul", keeping it humble, keeping to their street roots, keeping it affordable, keeping it real. That's their story and it's only the beginning. I love good food and I love a good story. You get both at Chego! Ask about any of their menu board items and you'll get some great food lore along with your order.
Even the Chego! logo, a drawing of an ecstatic round-faced man giving an enthusiastic thumb up, has a story behind it. His name is Mr. Toan Phan. He's the father of Natasha Phan, a former Kogi intern and current Director of Business and Marketing.
It's easy to feel at home at Chego! where eating a bowl of jazzed up steamed rice with A-list stars like Elijah Wood and uber skilled mixologists like Don Lee of Momofuku, both who were there that night, seemed strangely commonplace. I suppose this delicious "peasant food" might have a democratic effect, feeding the soul while bringing everyone down to earth long enough to enjoy a meal together.
At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
3300 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Chego's new neighbors have no idea what's coming. Get in line now!