If you’re an air traffic controller, or a roller coaster safety inspector, it’s probably best to do your job by the book. Otherwise, people will get hurt. But if you’re a chef, experimentation is basically a job requirement - it’s the only way you’ll discover something new, weird, and fantastic. By mixing things up, you can learn a lot.
Since it opened in 2016, Koreatown spot Here’s Looking At You has repeatedly shown that it’s unafraid to take risks and try new things. Usually, the approach pays off. Occasionally, it doesn’t. But either way, the results are always interesting.
We noticed this as soon as we walked into the small dining room on 6th Street. The heavily decorated walls include a grinning Jesus in rainbow-colored robes, the heads of two impressively horned oryxes, and a photo of Morrissey - a militant vegan, among some other, rather unsavory things - looking even more sullen than usual. It’s all a bit strange and a little risky, not to mention kind of funny, especially the idea of Morrissey being mocked by a couple of (decidedly not vegan) African antelope heads.
The menu is equally irreverent, and even more exciting. Take the corn ribs, for example. Corn is usually straightforward and boring - but there’s nothing straightforward about these. They’re perfectly charred, smothered in cotija and lime, and cut lengthwise into strips that, against all odds, do indeed remind us of baby back ribs. The beef tartare, normally a solo showcase for the meat itself, is elevated to a whole new level with the addition of red chilis and tamari. The salty sauce works well with the spice of the peppers, making the dish perfectly balanced and beyond good - in fact, it’s one of the best tartares we’ve ever had.
The main courses, though, are when things get truly weird, and in most cases, wonderful. The whole-roasted sea bream is covered in a housemade, green curry version of Rice Krispies, which provide a fantastic contrast to the buttery texture of the fish. The hamachi collar is served with a briny, Vietnamese fish sauce called nuoc cham that goes really well with the tender cut of fish. And the fried frog’s legs are wildly flavorful, and so spicy we always end up drinking half a mai tai before we’ve finished them.
There are bound to be some misses when you’re always swinging for the fences. The mussels and green curry are too sweet, and served chilled, giving them a slimy texture. And while the pork tomahawk al pastor was cooked perfectly, and the pieces close to the bone had all the great salty, smokiness of spit-roasted al pastor, the tomahawk is a huge cut of meat, meaning the leaner pieces of meat had a lot less flavor. Overall, it tastes fine - but we’d much rather just have a regular old al pastor taco.
Overall, the spirit of innovation pays off at Here’s Looking At You. The food just feels different from anything else in the entire city, so it’s easy to forgive a few missteps. Sometimes, it can help to mix things up, like smothering a whole fish in curried Rice Krispies. It doesn’t matter if Morrissey will judge you for eating it - he’s a jerk anyway.
Like cutting holes in a blanket to make a Snuggie, it’s not totally necessary to slice corn into baby back-sized ribs. But much in the same way that a Snuggie is better than a blanket, corn ribs are better than corn on the cob.
People say a lot of things taste like chicken. These frog’s legs taste more like chicken than all of those things - they’re also spicier than you can imagine, and we’d eat them in place of almost any chicken wings in town.
Snap! Crackle! and Pop! are not words we generally associate with a whole fried fish. But the curry Rice Krispies on this fresh, flavorful sea bream make it one of the most memorable dishes we’ve eaten in a long time.
If Here’s Looking At You was a cocktail bar, it’d be one of the best in the city - they are strong enough to knock you over, bring you back to life, etc. Pick your metaphor.
This is a good hunk pork, big enough to feed three people - the issue is that you’ll all be fighting over the smaller pieces towards the base of the bone, because those are the most tender and have the best flavor. Skip this, and order more frog’s legs.
This excellent zucchini bread is covered in ricotta and burnt honey. It’s only available at brunch, which is good, because if it were an all-day item, we’d be the first people in history to go broke from eating too much zucchini bread.