Chef Roy Choi, of Kogi BBQ food truck fame, has made a career out of going against the grain. A self- proclaimed culture-clasher, Choi has taken his unique Korean-American cuisine to the streets and painted a vibrant picture of Los Angeles through his eyes. Choi’s latest project, POT, is actually three individual concepts based out of The Line Hotel in Koreatown, just a few miles north of USC’s University Park campus.
POT Bar features signature cocktails and an open atmosphere. One can relax with unique drinks such as the “Uni,” which is composed of reposado tequila, uni purée, toasted nori, sesame seeds, cumin and smoked applewood salt.
Just next door, POT Café is an Asian-American take on the traditional espresso bar, featuring pastries and other dishes designed by both Choi and chef Marian Mar, a veteran of the renowned Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City. The tiny, wall-mounted café serves everything from mac and cheese pizza to black sesame mochi. Especially notable is the Ritz candy bar, a chocolatey, toffee-esque treat made from a base of buttery Ritz crackers.
Leading the charge at The Line is Choi’s flagship restaurant, POT, which serves family-style Korean hot pot dishes, and the massive cauldrons of magma-hot stew sit bubbling upon large induction burners in the center of most of the tables. College students will appreciate the “Boot Knocker,” which includes tofu, instant ramen and canned meats. More adventurous types, however, will probably go for the “Inside Story,” a delightfully rich combination of wild sesame, tripe, blood, intestines, pork broth and herbs. Needless to say, it’s a dish that serves as a reminder of exactly where the food comes from. Much like how Choi’s Kogi trucks bring quality food in a low-cost package, many of the dishes at POT elevate unappreciated or underused ingredients and give them a starring role.
Spicy, salty, sweet and just a little bit wrong, the complex flavors of Korean food invigorate the senses and rouse the tastebuds from the mundane slumber of everyday American eats. After tasting gochujang, a fermented chili paste, it’s difficult to go back to regular ketchup and mustard.
If one comes in a group, it is essentially expected that the table orders at least one hot pot to share, but POT has a variety of other dishes to offer. On the opposite side of the menu, guests can sample various types of kimchi, dumplings, soy-marinated blue crab and BBQ galbi. Diners can supplement their servings of “Inside Story” with spicy napa kimchi, refreshingly cold somen noodles, and one of the lusciously oily salt-brined mackerel. Fighting over who gets to eat the fish head is highly encouraged.
Service at POT is wonderfully attentive, if not a bit over-eager. The restaurant almost seemed over-staffed, and cups of cold buckwheat tea, served instead of water, are constantly full. Chefs behind the bar consistently ask diners how they are enjoying their meals, and waiters are constantly supplying guests with fresh bowls of rice and a never-ending supply of banchan. Sometimes it’s good to feel pampered.
POT is uncompromisingly different in all of the right ways, so if you don’t like kimchi, stay away. If you’re looking for a fun and, occasionally, challenging meal however, make sure to grab some friends and check it out immediately. For those interested in learning about Chef Roy Choi, his food and his viewpoint, he’s being interviewed by Jonathan Gold, renowned food critic, this Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
POT is located at The Line Hotel. It is open from 11 AM – 11 PM daily at 3515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90010.