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Photos: Roy Choi Brings Straight-Up Korean Food To The Cool Kids At New POT Restaurant & Cafe
When you walk into Roy Choi's newest restaurant, POT, at The Line hotel in Koreatown, you instantly feel like you're in his world. There's old school hip hop blaring on the speakers and there's a cheeky line drawn between hip and a casual, neighborhood joint. But instead of the Korean-meets-Mexican fusion you'd expect out of a Choi establishment (like Kogi or Chego), you get straight-up Korean fare.
LAist visited POT restaurant and Pot Cafe for a lunch tasting preview on a weekday afternoon in advance of the restaurant's March 25 grand opening. When we spoke to Choi last month, only the POT bar was open (with famed barman Michael Biancaniello inventing adventurous libations such as the uni cocktail), and he told us there was still more to come. "For you it looks great, but for me, I'm eating myself up inside because I feel it's only one piece of the whole puzzle," Choi told LAist.
Now, we see what he meant. Inside POT are hosts and waiters buzzing in and out of the restaurant wearing some vibrant outfits full of flowered patterns. (It matches the delicate petaled wallpaper that adorn the walls and the paper covers holding the chopsticks at the tables.) The hosts are wearing gold-chained necklaces—one had a flashy lion's head pendant and another with the word "BOSS" spelled out. All the details of this place seem deliberate (like how Wes Anderson operates with his films). Each table even has a paper towel roll as if you're at a restaurant with a crawfish boil.
Going along with the name POT, this restaurant specializes in serving Korean soup and noodle combinations that are served as hot pots. Choi has his take on the traditional war-time soup, "budae jjigae," which he renamed as the "Boot Knocker." It has instant ramen noodles, tofu, Spam, spicy pork sausage, corned beef hash, and a number of other items inside a chili-based, seafood broth. In addition, you can get the Old School pot that is bursting with flavor with bulgolgi, glass noodles, sesame, and kimchi.
Since POT is in the heart of Koreatown, Choi wanted to serve authentic Korean food. Everyone gets an assorted plate of banchan, those complimentary pickled veggies and dishes you get at Korean restaurants. Waiters pour you traditional barley tea that they've dubbed as "pot water"—we're not sold on that name though. Of course, Choi adds his own flare to the mix since he was trained in Western kitchens, and although he wasn't brought up in Korea, he points out he is Korean.
The hot pots come in different sizes and each table has a heater to keep the soups warm. However, if you want an individual-sized pot, you'll have to sit at the bars, which are something very different. Both bars situated at the ends of the restaurant make you feel like you're sitting in front of the glass cases at supermarkets that hold meat and seafood. At one bar, employees are preparing live crabs and slicing raw meat. It's a show for sure, if you're not one to be squeamish about getting acquainted with live sea animals before you eat them.
There are, however, other items besides hot pots served here. You can order dumplings, grab a salad with Asian pears, or even get a poke dish (which we highly recommend). Pair that with some draft beer, sake, or wine. If you're feeling like you're ready to embark into that kind of day, you might want to check out their Long Island Ice Tea that has sweet jelly pieces floating in the bottom of it like boba.
And yes, you'll feel nostalgic at POT, where the take-out bags are red-hued and reminiscent of the produce-aisle, see-through bags at markets. The check comes in a hologram notebook with happy faces on it (just like something we'd collect when we were kids).
Outside of the restaurant, at the entrance of the hotel is Choi's Pot Cafe, which is already up and running to the public. He along with baker Marian Mar (of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York) created the menu for the pastries, which are reminiscent of Korean and Taiwanese goodies. Once again though, this one mixes traditional Asian with an American flare. You'll have red bean buns and black sesame mochi cakes sitting behind the glass case, but on the other side, there will be a hot dog with ketchup and a mac and cheese pizza. (We suggest the almond puff pastry and army cake if you have a chance.) Oh, and they also serve Lamill coffee—and even an horchata latte if you feel so inclined.
POT restaurant and Pot Cafe are located at The Line hotel at 3515 Wilshire Blvd. in Koreatown, (213) 368-3030. The cafe is open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. POT restaurant will launch on March 25 and open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. They do no take reservations, only walk-ins.