Why One Of L.A.'s Most Acclaimed Korean Chefs Pivoted to Comfort Food

Shiku offers homestyle Korean fare to grab-and-go

When chef Kwang Uh and his partner (and wife) Mina Park closed their wildly inventive, critically acclaimed Korean restaurant Baroo in 2018, Los Angeles food lovers entered a collective state of mourning. 

But now, after a brief revival of Baroo in an East Hollywood flea market, Uh and Park are back, in Downtown L.A.'s historic Grand Central Market, with a new operation called Shiku. Unlike the complex composed plates and bowls of yesteryear, Shiku's focus is on grab-and-go banchan and doshirak (like Japanese bento boxes or Indian tiffins), as well as a line of packaged pantry products. 

Park says the atmosphere of Grand Central Market, teeming with dried chiles, candy, and produce, reminded her and Uh of Seoul's food markets, which are chock full of little stalls selling prepared foods and banchan to take home. They were inspired to make takeout-friendly meals for the marketplace environment, and unpretentious doshirak immediately came to mind. 

"We wanted to recreate the feeling of being children and having our mothers pack us homey, well-balanced lunches," says Park. "Shiku is about nostalgia and jungsung, the Korean word for the meticulous care and attention given out of love. Since the pandemic, we haven't been able to see our family in Korea, and so having Korean comfort food helps fill a void for us, too." 

Shiku's doshirak might feature galbi (grilled soy-marinated short rib), doenjang-marinated chicken, or fried mushrooms, served with a rotating cast of intricate banchan.

About those banchan — as one might expect from chefs who had an entire wall dedicated to jarred fermentation experiments at Baroo — the offerings at Shiku are a blend of traditional and decidedly more creative. There's kimchi, yes, and also chwinamul, a Korean wild mountain green that goes by the English name aster scaber; and myulchi bokkeum, made with not only tiny myulchi (dried anchovies) but also dried shrimp, shishito peppers, and walnuts. 

"There is an endless variety of banchan in Korea, some of which we sadly won't be able to make at Shiku because the greens aren't available, for example, or are (understandably) too expensive," said Park. "But we love introducing people to new food experiences and ingredients. After we settled down a bit, we started to make more banchan with a Baroo spirit, not necessarily traditional but still with a distinctly Korean soul."

Kwang and Uh are also offering two lines of packaged products for home cooks looking to expand their Korean pantry. The first involves small batches of condiments and ingredients made in-house under the Baroo name (like a limited-edition fermented green plum syrup and a fermented crab sauce). The second is a selection of high-quality ingredients from Korean producers that aren't typically sold in the US, like traditionally-made doenjang (fermented soybean paste) with a deeper, more intense flavor than the commercially available stuff. 

"It's important for us to create a bridge between our customers and the kind of Korean ingredients that they might not have experienced before and that we use at home ourselves," said Park. And once again, food lovers across L.A. rejoiced.