Baroo is Hollywood’s Semi-Secret Gem

Baroo was recently lauded in Bon Appetite Magazine as one of the ten best restaurants of 2016.  And yet, my family was skeptical as we pulled into a non-descript shopping mall  on Santa Monica Boulevard. The restaurant is two doors down from 7/11 and smaller than most Starbucks. It doesn’t have a sign. They feared I was leading them to gastrointestinal disaster.

Luckily, they were instantly comforted by the minimalist decor and cleanliness of this experimental eatery. The color scheme is white, and the layout is as self effacing as it’s signage. Tight confines limit seating to a few opportune barstools and one communal table.

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The chalkboard menu at Baroo displays nine dishes each day.

My eyes were instantly drawn to the shelf in the back, where jar after jug of liquids and vegetables are on display: fermenting.

Fermentation is the name of the game at Baroo. Chefs Matthew Kim and Kwang Uh have foregone traditional culinary approaches, and chosen to innovate with microorganisms. The restaurant is a passion project and almost entirely experimental, hence the minute floorpan and lack of signage.

In a sentence, Baroo is to food what Kombucha is to beverages. Or as my friend Dante Schnieder put it — Kimchi and Sauerkraut: The Restaurant. And this focus on fermentation creates completely unique flavors — on a spectrum that contains echoes of Tamari, lime and everything in between.

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Noorook: a decadent rice dish with deep tamari-esque notes. Topped with incredible pickled onions and corn flakes.

When I interviewed Boise chef Richard Langston on assignment from my cooking class, he said that acid was almost always the key to unlocking the full flavor potential of a dish. Whether its a little lemon on pasta or vinegar in a salad dressing, we rely on it’s sharpness and brightness to cut through and define the richest parts of a meal.

No matter how much delicious salt, butter or cream you heap on a dish, without acidic counterpoint it all begins to taste the same — like a painting that’s all one color. Our experience of foods is a game of contrasts, in which all flavors are relative values— just as a shirt can seem white, until you compare it to a stark white wall, and then you realize it’s a pastel yellow.

The flavors created at Baroo— especially in their two standouts: PhD complicated creamed corn (with kernels of popcorn) and creamy celery seed pasta (OMG) — are analogous to a squeeze of lemon. But they work on a much deeper level. If you imagine the flavors of a meal as frequencies of sound, lemon is almost always a high frequency, a bright soprano in the choir.

Baroo’s fermentation accomplishes the same thing — defining the fat, adding depth and richness — while singing in a baritone. It was such a startling realignment of the flavor universe that greens in the celery seed pasta tasted rich and nutty, almost blending into the surrounding aged parmesan.

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Celeriac pasta: typing this is making me emotional.

The simple beauty of the meals and the unprecedented matrix of flavors made this an absolutely one of a kind eating experience. The fact that this tiny culinary powerhouse sits nameless in a strip mall made it all the more exciting. As a man always looking for the unique eat, I felt this to be a singular triumph. Even the woman at the counter seemed impressed that a family of pasty Idahoans, clad in Harry Potter world merchandise, had managed to alight on such an urban secret.

But my credibility soon vanished when I walked up to the counter and asked for an order to go. I could see disappointment flood the eyes of the woman at the counter. “We don’t do to-go orders,” she flatly informed me. I knew I had been exposed — a glutton, and a dilettante.

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Oxtail pasta: handmade noodles coated beautifully in sauce and flavorful meat. The pork skins on top tasted like a chewy Popchip.

Regardless of how scintillating their noodles were, I should have stopped when I was ahead. Sometimes the most important part of eating at a great restaurant is knowing when to leave — it’s always earlier than you think, when you still want a few more minutes at the table, and one last bite.

Henry Eats SoCal: Corrales Mexican Food

Every time I eat at Corrales, I am convinced, if only for a moment, that I live in the wrong state, that I have made a terrible mistake and I must leave Idaho behind for the superior offerings of the Golden State.

Ventura California’s premier burrito destination offers the experience and flavors of a taco truck from a permanent downtown location. On their menu you will find all of the greatest hits you know and love — burritos, tacos, quesadillas and beyond — filled with your choice from their full arsenal of meats.

But there are two menu items where, in my humble estimation, Corrales drop kicks the competition.

The first item: corn burritos. In more gringo laden parts of the world, these might be called black bean taquitos, but lay off the Baja Fresh vernacular lest you be branded a heretic. These are corn burritos — filled with refried black beans, rolled, fried, slathered in cheese and sauce, and baked to melty perfection. They come four to an order, and dipped in Corrales gloriously garlicky hot salsa, they present my greatest risk of an early death.

The second menu item I ask you to visualize with me. Imagine that we baked a poblano pepper, and then we stuffed it with a range of mexican cheeses, and then we battered and fried that pepper until it was golden brown, and then we laid that pepper atop a tortilla, alongside beans, rice, and a generous helping of guac, and then we rolled a burrito the size of Hulk Hogan’s forearm.

That is the Corrales Chile Relleno burrito. It works on so many levels. The beans and rice would be delightful on their own, but combined them with the grease of a cheese stuffed pepper and the bright, heady richness of guacamole, and we’ve got a different beast entirley. Every bite of this burrito makes me grown.

What’s so ingenious about this setup is that the cheese is INSIDE the pepper. Whereas the dairy in a burrito can often pout lukewarm and disenfranchised on one side, this cheese forms the molten core — the beating heart — of the whole operation. The spicy pepper juices and flavorful cheese grease flow outward with every bite, permeating the bottom levels of the burrito. Thus, the last few bites become mind-blowingly good and completely shameful. This is not the place for a first date.

And anyways, you would be a fool to try and find a connection more true, and meaningful, than the one you feel when you suckle that last flap of bean smeared tortilla from your fully cupped hand.

4 1/2 STARS