It's almost impossible to describe to the uninitiated, and yet Baroo inspires instant devotion from many who venture through its unmarked door in a Hollywood strip mall. As much an exercise in philosophy as an actual restaurant, Baroo's chefs Kwang Uh and Matthew Kim take all kinds of inspiration from disparate sources and somehow manage to meld them into some of the most interesting, soulful food anywhere. Uh's fine-dining experience (he spent time at Noma, among other world-renowned kitchens) meets his Korean background along with a heavy focus on fermentation, or, as Uh puts it, “To serve food with respect and love to nature and people, we try to use local, sustainable and organic ingredients with wit, open mind, free spirit and fermentation as much as possible.” What does that mean, exactly? It means kaleidoscopic dishes with dozens of elements that are stunningly beautiful, and nourishing in more than one sense of the word. One example is the noorook, a mix of grains including Job's tears, farro and kamut, shot through with roasted koji beet cream, concentrated kombu dashi, seeds, nuts, finger lime and rose onion pickle. The space is sparse, the two men are the only employees, and they sometimes close up shop for weeks at a time in order to travel for inspiration. But when you're sitting there with your bowl of food and an elderflower kombucha, it barely matters how undefinable this place is. You're just intensely grateful it exists at all.
The bibim salad has a slightly sticky base of oat, quinoa and bulgur, topped with a rainbow of veggies cut into ribbons.; Credit: Anne Fishbein