I was invited to attend a progressive food tour of Koreatown by Avital Tours. It’s a 3 hour, 4-course progressive prix-fixe dining experience, where you visit 4 restaurants and receive two appetizers, one entree, and one dessert, with a sprinkling of culinary history and stories in between. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend, so my friend Chrissy (IG: @oceangirl83) took my place, and here’s her report on this amazing experience:
When it rains in California most people stay home; I, however, went on a culinary adventure through Koreatown with Avital Tours. When Michelle asked me to cover this event, I was very excited. I have always wanted to go explore Koreatown, but had no idea where to start, or, honestly even what to order. This tour was the perfect way to solve that, and our tour guide Kristen was the perfect person to do that with.
She was one of the team members that cultivated this tour back in September and, after tasting at numerous location, they have come up with a lovely three hour tour with a four course progressive meal, that shows both the history and the delicious food that Koreatown has to offer. Our tour group only had 7 people, including myself. We ranged from regular visitors of Koreatown, to ones like myself who had never been. Most standard tours have 12 people, however, they can accommodate up to 25, and even do larger company team building events.
We met at the HSM building, and started our 1.3 mile food tour up the street to our first location Hangari Bossam. This small location is actually one of the busiest and oldest Korean restaurants in the city. Immediately when you walked in you were greeted with a warm smile and the staff offered us some nice warm tea. So, here’s the nice thing about these tours… you don’t have to worry about what to order, they take care of that for us. We just get to sit and enjoy hearing about the history and how the dish is made while we waited. It was at this location we were going to have Mul Naengmyeon, which is a cold noodle dish with veggies, chicken and buckwheat noodles.
While waiting, they gave us some banchan, Korean side dishes consisting of fresh kimchi, greens in a spicy sauce and some barley rice. They also brought us some spicy pork with rice paper. The pork was cooked well and very moist. Like most Korean food at first the heat is mild, but as you eat it, it gets warmer in your mouth. This pork was no exception.
All the dishes were served family style, as the whole tour would be. Not only is very popular in Korean culture, it was also is a great way to get you to interact with your whole tour group. Next, came our soup (Mul Naengmyeon) which came to us in four large bowls. The dish had red paste in, so the more you mixed it, the hotter the dish got. I chose a bowl without the paste and got to taste the broth more. The noodles were thin like most ramen dishes I have had and the broth was very flavorful with almost a hint of sweetness. I could have sat at ate this longer, but I knew the tour had just started and we had a lot more delicious food to go.
Leaving Hangari Bossam we headed towards our next spot. Stoping along the way we learned about where Koreatown came from. It all started with The Ambassador hotel which was one of Los Angeles biggest landmarks till it was torn down in 2005. In the golden age of Hollywood it was the place to be for Hollywood stars. It was where Marilyn Monroe signed her contact and was the location of many Academy Awards.
When that age was ending most immigrants came in after the National Immigration act of 1965 which was really about bringing in families. These families were then buying the area around the hotel and were turning them into the community we know today all while trying to keep that nostalgia of Hollywood alive.
Our next stop was The Prince, which was a perfect representation of it. When you first walk in the last thing you think of is Korean food. This place looks like something out of a mob movie. Perhaps that is why Mad Men filmed there. Currently, New Girl is filming there as well.
It was build in 1927 and is one of the oldest buildings in LA. This dimly lit bar has red round booths, red carpet and a grand piano. On the walls have pictures of ships and English men. The original owner of the building put in a clause that is had to stay that way and it is what brings it part of its charm.
At this stop, the we were given Korean Beer “Hite” to pair with our Korean wings. Kirsten told us that actually Korean wings dated back to the Korean War. What makes Korean wings so special is that it is double fried, and the sauce was to help the older generation learn to enjoy the wings. Having beer with the wings became tradition during the World Cup that was co-hosted with Japan. Here’s another fun fact: Wings and beer also became popular thanks to a Korean drama. Who knew so much history came with chicken and wings?
Four giant plates of chicken wings came over, and even with the room dimly lit you could see the red sauce popping off these hot wings. The wings were covered in a thick sauce that had the constancy of molasses. These wings were not dry at all and were some of the juiciest wings I have ever had. However, they were so spicy that after just two I was done. I was very happy for the beer. If you like spicy food these wings are for you. I would like to come back and try the other sauces. We were running low on time so we had to leave, but what was so nice is that gave us doggie bags so we could take some home. I liked it that they didn’t want us to waste the food, and we could take them with us.
Our third location, Escala, was probably my favorite. Escala is a Colombian-Korean Fusion restaurant featuring executive chef Chris Oh, who started with OG Chino. This place was unlike any of the restaurants we had to been to. This was colorful, had a DJ finishing a set and is a fusion of different cultures.
That is what is so great about Koreatown it a little of everything. While we waited for our entree, the “K-Town rice con pollo”, we drank a La Mula which was a remix of the Moscow Mule. This tart pink drink had passion fruit infused vodka, ginger beer and fresh lime. It paired perfectly with our rice.
The rice had kimchi & coconut rice with peas, shredded chicken in a spicy tomato sauce. My favorite thing was on top a fried egg. (You say fried egg… and I’m sold!) The rice was sticky and, while the heat did build up in your mouth, it was delicious. This is a type of dish you could have when it is raining outside (or if I was nursing a hang over).
Kristen told us that is one of the most popular places in the evening for drinks and DJs, and also has an excellent brunch. The building is locating in the Chapman Market Plaza and the building was built in 1929. We barely made a dent in our bowls before heading to our final spot for dessert: eat dessert, be a monster.
Eat dessert, be a monster has been on my radar for a long time. The drinks are served in plastic light bulb cups, and some of the drinks come with fresh cotton candy. Kristen told us they picked this place for dessert because it supports local suppliers.
We had the Almond Cloud with vanilla ice cream. With all the rich food we consumed, a simple, fresh dessert was the perfect way to end the afternoon. I would like to come back and try churro or fruity pebbles macaroon with a mango black tea.
If you have never done an Avital Tour, I highly recommend them. In addition to Koreatown, the Los Angeles location also have tours in Venice and Downtown LA.
In San Francisco (which is where they got started) they have 6 tours with a Chinatown one, and a Michelin-starred progressive tour. Currently, they are beta testing in New York. Avital Tours said its “Story Telling with food”, so you get to enjoy good food, but you get a history lesson on the city and get to hear the stories of have all these great restaurants came to be. Not a bad way to spending a rainy day in California.