A Koreatown dining destination draws foodies with bold, multicultural flavors and fresh, local ingredients.
Not too long ago, Koreatown was for barbecue, bibimbap and banchan. But lately, the neighborhood conveniently sandwiched between Hollywood and downtown has quietly become one of LA’s go-to dining destinations, thanks to exciting, next-generation restaurants like Le Comptoir and Commissary.
Now its restaurant scene has a new star: Here’s Looking at You. The name is not an allusion to the famous line from Casablanca, but a reference to a tiki-themed postcard found by the owners. That’s the first of many surprises in store during an evening spent here.
Here’s Looking at You opened about a year ago on a formerly forlorn stretch of W. 6th St. and is a partnership between two alums from the Fairfax mainstay Animal, manager Lien Ta and chef Jonathan Whitener.
The venture makes its home in a few old storefronts (one was a sandwich shop, another belonged to a psychic reader) that now meld seamlessly into a 50-seat restaurant. The look of unadorned tables, clean white walls, a varnished wood-topped bar and sleek overhead lamps is tempered by curtains lining the outer walls, stuffed game heads and potted plants placed to eye-catching effect around the walls. The shelves behind the bar contain not only bottles of spirits, but also coffee table books and other knickknacks — making it feel like visiting the home of a friend with eclectic tastes. Convivial conversational current from diners flowing in and out and the bustle of an open kitchen up the space’s energy as well.
In the midst of all this, Whitener’s dishes are both seasonal and creative. Many are as multicultural as the surrounding neighborhood, with flavors from as far afield as Latin America and Southeast Asia in full effect with fresh local ingredients. Plates range from shareable bites to large-format feasts. The menu is arranged by centerpiece ingredients — vegetables, meat and poultry, fish and shellfish and dessert —rather than by size, so rely on your server to help you plot your courses.
Start with the avocado, adorned with fresh citrus slices of mandarin and grapefruit, nori, earthy hazelnuts and bitter kohlrabi in a tangy champagne vinaigrette. The shishito peppers are another taste of spring, charred to perfection and served over a creamy tonnato sauce with Chinese sour plum powder. Thought it’s generally a heavy dish, the beef tartare here is bursting with flavors in a clear homage to the galbi served in nearby restaurants; here it is dressed up with toasted red chilis, thick egg yolk, and a trio of turnips, cress and ramps for freshness.
Unctuous strips of Scottish salmon crudo come cured with mouthwatering passionfruit juice and dabs of smoked soy and shiitake vinegar that add a pleasing complexity to the composition. Soft-shell prawns (pictured) are the perfect balance of earthiness, acidity and umami — delicately fried and served over a spicy red salsa diabla laced with cumin and ornamented by dollops of avocado mousse and herbaceous Vietnamese coriander.
Overall, the desserts offer equally nuanced combinations of flavors. Keep things simple with the Strawberry, in which the namesake fruit has been infused into a granita and dollops of gêlée, served over crema ice cream with curlicues of sablé and a dusting of brown sugar.
The cocktail list is as original as the food menu, so be sure to order a round or two. For a pure taste of summer, the Sunburst is a sunshiney sipper inspired by the ceiling of LA’s iconic Wiltern Theater: cherry blossom-infused aperitivi, Carpano Bianco vermouth, hyssop and yuzu bitters all enliven a base of Avua Amburana cachaça that’s been infused with locally grown kumquat. If it leaves you wanting more, don’t worry: drinks come with an extra shot or two served in a small tumbler over ice.
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