I still remember standing in line for my first Kogi taco. It was windy, cold, and although I was more than 10 minutes early, there were already people milling about the sidewalk outside of the Golden Gopher. In just two minutes, the line was snaking around the corner. Now, with four trucks on hand and too many knockoffs to count, Kogi's lines aren't so insanely hyped anymore, but that doesn't mean the demand isn't there.
Enter Chego. Kogi's chef de cuisine Roy Choi has decided to jump off the truck route for a bit to helm a brick-and-mortar institute and get back to his roots, Korean- and kitchen-wise, and the foodies have come running. A lot has been riding on Chego, based off Kogi's reputation alone, but it's also running off the steam from Choi's recent Food & Wine Best New Chef nomination.
And Choi isn't backing down from the pressure. This time he's taking over rice bowls, and it isn't your simple chicken and rice. Think rice of the stickier variety (sticky but not sweet), completely engulfed in large chunks of meat and an explosion of strong, fragrant spices, usually topped off by a fried egg. It's fun, ambitious food, challenging you to really engage in the meal rather than boringly set it aside. It's obvious that Choi is obsessed with flavors, flavor combinations and seeing how food works, and it's an fascinating ride.
But it can also feel like an unsettling rollercoaster. The spices of the dishes were spot-on, especially in terms of the Korean influences, but mixing that in with full cloves of garlic, sour cream drenched in horseradish, green onions and other flavors I couldn't even name is overwhelming. It's difficult to try and dissect all the flavors, and this is no slow burn--I really can't use any other word than explosion, and it is relentless. By the time you dig into the middle of the bowl, things might start to make a little bit more sense...maybe, if your senses aren't completely burned out by this point. And another note: some parts of the big chunks of my prime rib, otherwise charred perfectly, were not cooked at all.
Where I did enjoy the overpowering flavor were the Ooey Gooey Fries. This too had large pieces of garlic and crazy spicy sauce, but with the crunch of the fries, some tongue-soothing cheese and as an appetizer to share, it was definitely bearable in the least, delectable at the most. You could still taste all the flavors here without feeling completely annihilated.
The portions, served in rectangular paper bowls, seem small at first, but with so much flavor, you'll be set. The restaurant is set up to be more of a order and sit space, with small tables and numbers for orders, so people may appreciate taking the food to go. Also, the menu changes every few weeks or so, so be prepared for experimental stuff.
Altogether, Chego provides for a flavorful food experience, which can surely catch you off guard if you're not ready. And you may love it or hate it, but it's definitely worth trying, if not to keep up with the hype and taste the work of one of L.A.'s signature chefs.
Chego is located at 3300 Overland Ave. in Palms.
-- Chau Tu
Photo credit: Daren Sprawls