Wednesday, July 17, 2013

L.A. HAVENS - Chego

Chego's Chubby Pork Belly bowl



727 N. Broadway, #117, Los Angeles (Chinatown)

Warning: Chego's rice bowls are not for the faint of heart. The phrase "rice bowl" tends to bring forth the image of overly sweet chicken teriyaki strips over white rice, but for anyone who is familiar with
Chef Roy Choi's dishes – a short rib taco from the Kogi Truck, the pork terrine Cuban Torta from Sunny Spot or Peruvian-style spin on the American classic Cracklin' Beer Can Chicken from A-Frame – then you know his creations are from from ordinary. He is known for breaking rules, elevating street to fine dining and mashing together cultures all on one plate, or in Chego's case, a bowl.

Choi opened Chego, his first brick-and-mortar restaurant, in Palms three years ago, and quickly gained attention for its flavor-packed bowls that embraced flavors from many of the vibrant cultures that make up the fabric of Los Angeles: Korea, Spain, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Mexico, Malaysia and Japan. Chego moved to Chinatown's Far East Plaza earlier this summer, marking Choi's first venture on the east side. (Westsiders can still get a few of Chego's bowls at the Alibi Room in Culver City.) Its bright orange sign stands out in the bustling center where tourists, little old Chinese ladies and Mexican families pass as you sit and wait for your number to be called to pick up your food.

None of the menu items are over $10, and everything is served in low-waste containers. Starters like the fried 3PM Meatballs and the $12 Salad (which is actually $7) are great options, but my favorite "snack" is the Ooey Gooey Fries. You might get one order to share with your friends, but after one bite you'll regret not having one bowl all for yourself. Beer-battered potatoes are slathered with sour cream sambal, red chilies, cilantro, pickled garlic and Monterey Jack, cheddar and cotija cheeses – dangerously addictive.

There's a vegetarian Kung Pau Noodle Bowl and a half-pound grass-fed burger topped with cheese, mayo, chili sauce (pretty much everything has chili sauce here), fried shallots, arugula and Thai basil, as well as a prime rib sandwich on grilled ciabatta with seared onions, roasted garlic Irish butter, parmesan and salsa verde if you don't feel like eating rice. However, the main stars are, of course, the rice bowls.
Ooey Gooey Fries

Favorites are the Kimchi Spam Bowl with fried rice, scrambled eggs and baby boo choy and the Sour Cream Hen House (grilled chicken, Chinese broccoli, sour cream sambal, red jalapeño, toasted sesame, Thai basil and a fried egg over rice). I love the Chubby Pork Belly with its chunks of Kurobuta pork polished with Korean red pepper paste (kochujang), delicious pieces of pickled radish, peanuts, cotija cheese, bright and bitter water spinach and Chinese broccoli. I let the runny yolk of the fried egg intermingle with the red and green chili sauces over the rice.

It might be hard to save room for dessert, but you have got to try the Piña Krackalada (rings of caramelized pineapple and crunchy puffed rice over a bed of sweet coconut rice), the chocolate, carmel and peanut Sriracha Bar or Chego's version of Tres Leches: devil's food cake soaked in cayenne- and cinnamon-infused leches with spiced candied peanuts and dark chocolate on top.

Although all the different seasonings in one bowl might put off those with simple palates, Chego – like all of Choi's other establishments – are at least worth a try. I'm not usually a huge fan of spicy food, but I just can't resist those Ooey Gooey Fries and piquant pieces of pork belly. Who knows? You might find yourself a convert like me.

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