Gary Robins spotted cooking Oktoberfest food at Biergarten; Burgershnitzel! (Available today and next weekend only)

Chef Gary Robins seems to be the Where’s Waldo? of the Los Angeles and New York food worlds, just when you find him and finally taste his thoughtfully tasty food, he disappears. And, just as in Martin Handford’s Waldo series, we never know where the colorful main character will end up next.

Hell, he left Moko just a week after Jonathan Gold and I ( happened to write him up on the same freaking day too, haha) wrote him up. I was first impressed by his pretty bad ass fooding skills when he did his little pop up at Georgio’s Cucina. His food is, well, how shall I say…thoughtfully structured and deftly executed? Which seems to make for food that is foolhardy but yet somehow always spot on. He seems to adapt pretty damn well to whatever cuisine is placed before him. Well, at least the two (polar opposite) ones I have been fortunate to try myself.

This last weekend the unsung hero did a weekend warrior’s rendition of a pop up at Biergarten. And thanks to the burger “connect” homie Eddie Hah, I was informed about this earlier in the week and planned to show up to see what the guy had up his sleeve this time around.

I was rolling deep with the rest of YMFB (Young Money Foodbloggers yo!,) Garrett Snyder of Los Angeles Magazine and Los Angelicious Times foodblog. We showed up at around one in the afternoon to an unfortunately empty dining room.

First things first, we each got a beer. They tapped into a couple of Oktoberfest-style Dunkel German beers and we immediately spotted them on the menu and zeroed in for the thirsty kill. I went for Hacker Pschorr seasonal rendition of the celebratory Marzen, not as heavy as say, an Optimator but still as satisfying in the way only a German beer that is brewed in accordance to Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law is, always palatable. As we banged our frosty glasses hard in cheers, Garrett informed me of the German tradition of looking dead straight into the other person’s eyes as you did this or else you would get seven years of bad sex; we basically had a staring competition at this point.

The guy actually remembered me and decided to send out a couple of his tater creations to supplement his “Shnitzel Burger” that Garrett and I decided to try.

Kartoffelpuffer: German Potato Pancakes with Williamsbire cured Atlantic Salmon

Truffle Rosti
Truffle Scented Rösti: [Mashed] truffled potato pancake with air dried ham, ginger crisp, mixed chicories

The German potato pancakes got the traditional Robins treatment, keeping true to the essence of the original dish but chef-ing it up just enough to add a delightful twist. The rectangular Kartoffelpuffer looked and crisped up like his Korean Jeon pancakes at Moko. It was a tad saltier than I would had liked but the sashimi-like salmon topping the perfect hash brown pancake made up for it.

The latter pancake was similar but even a little more golden brown and delicious with a creamier center. They reminded me of a fancier truffled version of those hashbrown tater tot things from Burger King…in a good way.

Wurst at Biergarten
Niman Ranch Wursts: Grilled Venison with sour cherries and sage; Weiss wurst with Riesling, Lambic and Green Chilies

Also in traditional Robins style, they made everything from scratch. From their Bavarian pretzels to their hand-straddled custom sausages, just for this dining event. He sent out his two fleshy creations for us to try by themselves but they are traditionally served on a roll for a complete meal. Both were juicy as hell but of course my favorite was the venison one. Leaner and more flavorful like only Bambi meat could be.

Shnitzel Burger
Wiener Burgershnitzel!: Lightly breaded [pan- fried] ground Niman Ranch veal, red onion marmalade, Sarugula and [caper] remoulade on toasted potato buns

Not surprisingly, the burger was the most complex and amazing thing on the menu. After all, esteemed 8 oz. chef, Eddie Hah, is the main cook any other day at Biergarten. The breading was brown, crispy and non-greasy. In fact, the breading was so light, when poked with a fork, the ground veal’s translucent juiciness exuded through the stuff. It was hella delicious with every burger element covered, a rich, full flavored cheese, skillfully cooked meat, a tangy dressing and accoutrement and even some esoteric, peppery greens.

The $12 price tag for this monstrously delicious burger is actually a bargain when you take into account that the juicy veal is all from Niman Ranch. It will fill you up good too.

Garrett and I were pretty freaking stuffed and mildly buzzed by the end of the heavy meal. Garrett spent some time studying abroad in Germany and said the food was not too different than the type of stuff you ate over there. As always, I did not feel let down and will be looking forward to whatever cuisine or restaurant he cooks up next. I hope Los Angeles will finally start to realize and appreciate his food before it’s too late and we end up with yet another great chef lost to the East Coast!

Oktoberfest at Biergarten
Happening again on October 1st and 2nd
206 North Western Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 466-4860
Open for lunch

MoKo (Culver City): The Inevitable Post

Why “inevitable” you ask?

Well, this is the first comped (partially) meal review piece I decided to happily write since that whole LA Weekly “Meet your Blogger” drama that happened more than a year ago.

I like to think as that experience as my personal christening celebration into mature, realistic food writing actually. It opened my eyes to the capitalistic dangers of food blogging, well actually, it just taught me to be hell’a more careful with the words I choose to use during a recorded interview.

Naturally, it took me a while to deal with this. I decided to take a comped-meal sabbatical for about a year. I was traumatized, not even opening some of the many invites I would get daily. But I knew that I had to reflect deeply and establish my own very set of concrete writing ethics if I was going to get anywhere in this relentless career, ethics that I would follow for the rest of my life.

Well, I faced them, meditated on them and finally–found them.

As a budding, full-time student food writer that solely depends on financial aid and scarily haphazard freelancing stipends (yes, that still lives with his parents too) , sure a free feast sounds downright divine sometimes. But, recently, I have been learning to finally–prioritize my life. Well trying my hardest anyways (hey! I have a whiteboard now, ok?!). The more I do this, the more I realize, that a free meal with free expensive booze and luxury ingredients just isn’t worth it for me sometimes, especially as I dig my unique food writing niche deeper with every article I publish.

Don’t get me wrong, like the late DC 80’s Hardcore Punk band, Minor Threat sang, “[This} ain’t the first, I hope [this] ain’t the last, because I know we are all heading to that adult crash!!”

I will still do them. But, as with any other thing that you do too much and eventually becomes unhealthy–with moderation. After all, isn’t that the reason why food blogger’s continue dedicating hours and hours of their time to writing? To spread the news of good food? To bring appreciation to the proud, few, fierce people who work seven days a week sometimes, for the sake of good food and drink?

Thanks to Eddie Hah of Biergarten for pushing me until I finally tackled and assessed this personal conflict, and also for inviting me out to this. Now without further adieu, I give you my unabashed review of moKo in Culver City.

moko 1
moKo as you walk in

So, when a chef that names a burger after you invites you out to dinner, YOU SAY YES, no matter what. And because you are dining with a chef, you know that the dinner will not be a question of whether to indulgence or not but more a question of much indulgence will be partaken in that particular evening. I was excited–I had eaten fruit all day too–so was ready.

moKo (short and hip for Modern Korean) is pretty new but it is certainly not unpopular in the foodblogging circle of LA, it’s been a pretty hot topic actually amongst my colleagues. When it all boils down though, there really is only one way to truly find out if a restaurant is “worth it” or not, remember? Go find out for yourself!

So we all know that the space use to belong to the similarly themed Gyenari restaurant, and also that Culver City has become a pretty sweet dining destination and all that fluff stuff. So onwards, straight to the food!

moko ambiance

The place is nice, you’ll notice this immediately. The dining room is made up of a bunch of chic booth’s, black with cream-colored cushions and red outlines, a certain New York art party sense of coolness is established with the red brick foundation on the walls around you. The music was cool, from what I could remember. By cool, I mean Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” being bumped at sometime through out the night.

Chef Gary Robins is the kitchen shotcaller, yes the same Robins that outdid himself on a recent post I wrote. After doing a brief pop up last year at Georgio’s Cucina, he was now here. Lucky for us that night.

Eddie Hah is a big fan of the guy. And I can see why as our first dish makes its way to the table.

moko 2

Banchan gets the cheffy treatment and is known as “Market Banchan” here. There is still kimchi but there are also things like Beets sautéed with jujubes and apple smoked bacon. Now, the fact that these are priced is probably the source of disarray for most people, especially with our Angeleno AYCE KBBQ habituated culture. If you are curious, it will cost you, three for $7.5, five for $12 and seven for $16. Get the first option and get the glossy dark, marinated lotus root. Crisp and sweet since its brined with honey.

Cocktails were to be had of course, even if I was the only one drinking that night.

moko cocktail
Thai Basil Cooler

I settled on the the cooler, which comprised of Thai basil, Damrak gin, St. Germain, lemon & agave ($11). It was subtle, refreshing and dangerously easy to drink, paired well with the food too.

moko first crudo
moko tuna crudo
moko last crudo

Now, if it’s one thing that I remember from Chef Robins, it is his take on crudo dishes. He seems to quite the deft hand with seafood. The Hamachi was particularly the most buttery, flavored with yuzu citrus jus with pickled, jalapenos and crisp garlic ($13). The server came out and told us that chef was breaking down a whole Tai Snapper for us too. And he prepared that sucker with some asian pear jus and pickled ginger ($12). Like I said, he is a bad ass with seafood. The last one was the most traditional of all, Ahi Tuna with yuzu and soy, but even then he souped it up a bit with some blood orange infused olive oil ($12).

moko baos

Next up were his own take on Ssam, the leaf-wrapped favorites of Korea. Although, here, Robins applied the Chinese Bao approach to them. The one with Sesame Duck Confit, slivered juicy mango, wild arugula with ginger aioli and chipotle jang ($6 each) was my favorite for sure. It doesn’t hurt that chef made the bao’s himself. Mmmm….edible clouds.

moko korean pancake-pizza

Now, this particular dish was the one that swept me off my feet. Chef Robins is doing to Korean pancakes what Nancy Silverton did to Pizza’s in Los Angeles, redefining them and giving them the gourmet treatment. Actually, he is treating them like pizza’s too. He topped the zucchini and golden squash based one like you would a fine pizza with grilled shrimp and a zesty sesame tomato chutney ($13). Golden brown and crisp in the most delightful way humanly possible.

Next up was Robins rendition of the ultra-traditional dish of Bossam.

moko charcuterie

I forget the cut of pork it was and how it was prepared but I do remember an awesome shrimp and scallop flavored mustard that came along with it. He plated it like a charcuterie platter with some rosemary thick and tasty focaccia bread toast he baked himself too.

moko bomb foie gras dumplings
Foie Gras Mandoo

Another table favorite were the pan fried duck and foie gras Mandoo dumplings with sour cherry dipping sauce ($12). These were the Korean version of a perfect xia long bao dumpling. They were juicy as hell but there was very little actual foie gras in it if that was the only reason you ordered them for.

We got a couple more dishes after but that was it for the hosted part that chef Robins cooked us himself. But like I said, Eddie Hah REALLY admires the guy so we still ordered some more food. Food that he paid for. They also have these state-of-the-art tabletop grills with vacuum’s underneath them that suck up all the annoying smoke usually encountered at a KBBQ place. So, they offer souped up, premium Korean BBQ options as well.

moko kbbq
grilled prawns
Premium Korean BBQ at moKo

Eddie opted for the Giant Blue Prawns ($9 each), Marinated Kalbi ($18), Apricot-Marinated Duck ($18) and of course, in true hedonistic chef fashion…marrow ($8) !

I forget the name of the country where the prawns were flown in from but it was somewhere exotic-sounding I remember. Where ever they were from, the prawns flown in fresh and literally smelled like the ocean (not Long Beach type of ocean, more like Cancun ocean foo). They were delicious, they tasted really sweet, literally sweet, not metaphorically sweet. The duck was my second favorite, tender and steak-like.

moko bbq marrow
moko marrow on homemade toast

The luscious bone fat shimmered and curdled up as it stood on the grill plate waiting to get scraped out and eaten atop some more of that crispy homemade rosemary focaccia toast. By this point, I was beyond stuffed, which made the marrow’s distinctive flavors and textures all the more noticeable. Mmmm…marrow.

Finally, it was time for desserts.

lychee semifredo
Frozen lychee parfait

moko diy smores
moKo Housemade DIY S’mores

green tea shortcake
Green tea shortcake

The s’mores were the knockout of the sweet league, they utilized the tabletop grills even more beautifully. Chef Robins baked the graham crackers himself with almond flour, they were more of a shortbread than anything else and were amazing. Instead of Hershey’s, there was a pre-melted chocolate ganache to smear with, and the marshmallows were flavored. Of course, they were also made in house.

To this day, that meal holds the record for the longest dinner (and perhaps my most gluttonous one too), we got there a little after six in the afternoon and didn’t walk out until almost midnight. But when the food is as tantalizing and deftly executed as moKo’s, I didn’t mind. I am glad that Chef Robins has found a home for now.

Most of the meal was free, sure. But I wouldn’t had been able to afford it otherwise so, there you go, the inevitable post!

(Disclaimer: I ate this meal like three month’s ago.)

9540 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
Neighborhood: Culver City
(310) 838-3131