A new restaurant just down the street from the Beverly Center is making a jump into the Taiwanese fusion game, bringing out the flavors of scallion pancakes and beef rolls in sandwich form.
M CON — short for "Modern Convenience" — is the brainchild of 32-year-old Jeffrey Ko. The cheery and hip eatery is planted on a corner, with natural light spilling through its large windows. Black-and-white geometric designs and neon signs with phrases like "Beer and wine" and "We make our own bread" adorn the walls.
While the "beer and wine" part may have to wait, since the restaurant is still working on a liquor license, what it's doing right now is freshly baking bread on a daily basis. And it's special: a scallion-laced, white bun split in half and stuffed with fillings such as five spice–rubbed brisket and braised pork belly.
"I love scallion pancakes and beef rolls, and I kind of took that and melded it with an English muffin, like a scallion bun," Ko says.
The circular bun indeed resembles an English muffin, but with a much more pillowy, soft center and lighter crisp on the outside. Ko came up with the recipe, which requires a double-rise process. The dough gets rolled with scallions in a cigar shape and then rolled again like a snail, as with scallion pancakes. You can see the ring of circles on the finished product.
As for the fillings, Ko was inspired by L.A. street food, Asian night markets and the dishes his Taiwanese parents made while he was growing up as an Asian-American kid in Torrance. But his spin is using fresh ingredients from the Original Farmers Market at the Grove. His version of a cured pastrami is the aforementioned five spice–rubbed brisket, with meat from Harris Ranch. The melt-in-your-mouth fatty pork belly hails from Chile. And Ko's thinly pounded organic and cage-free chicken breast is breaded and deep-fried. It's lightly reminiscent of popcorn chicken you might get at a boba shop, or fried-chicken steaks from Taiwan's night markets.
Many of the sandwiches are accompanied by house-made pickled mustard greens — a staple in Taiwanese cuisine — and creamy sauces like sweet mayo or dijon aioli. For an extra, added kick, ask for a jar of the simbal sauce, which adds some spice and tanginess to each dish.
Besides sandwiches, diners can get rice and salad bowls, as well as a variety of sides such as fried turnip cakes or grilled street corn. One of the highlights is Ko's modern take on a "bird's nest." The dish is lightly battered, julienned cabbage, carrots and mustard greens that are deep-fried into a nest shape. The texture is not unlike tempura vegetables you might find at a Japanese restaurant. And on top is an over-easy egg; the runny yolk brings a rich creaminess to the whole dish.
"Bird's nest was the item that my mom always made growing up," Ko says. "She would cook five to six dishes Monday through Friday. I would remember a lot of the stuff she made from my youth."
Ko didn't learn how to cook from his mom, but he says she was the "catalyst" for his late-night eating habits. In general, it's "eating that inspires me," he says.
M CON is Ko's second restaurant; his first is Feast, a Mediterranean restaurant in Hollywood, across the street from the Pantages Theater, which he has been running for the last five and a half years. This time around, he wanted to do something that paid homage to his Asian heritage.
"Growing up in L.A. during my youth, I was always ashamed or didn’t want to be made fun of or known as Asian, but now I feel like I’m definitely more proud of it," Ko says. "I’m proud of my cultural background and I want to represent what our L.A.-Asian culture is."
At the same time, he also wanted to make sure he was doing something a little different so he wouldn't be compared to anything else, especially in the San Gabriel Valley. "Being born here, there are people who do authentic Chinese and Taiwanese [already], and they just do it really well here. I don’t really want to touch that because I don’t think I can rival it.... I wanted to do a modern take on L.A. and Taiwanese dining."
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Since M CON is still in its soft opening, guests can expect the menu to expand a bit in the coming months. Ko is experimenting with hand-cut noodles and hopes to bring a duck dish to the restaurant's roster. He says he'll have a grand opening once his black sesame and matcha soft-serve ice cream machines come in.
M CON, 8459 Beverly Blvd., Beverly Grove; (323) 592-3315, mconla.com.