Unit 120 kitchen incubator chef dinners debut, with preview of a new Koreatown restaurant

Unit 120, Alvin Cailan's Chinatown culinary incubator, is kicking off with a bang. The first chef dinner at Cailan's new project will feature Jonathan Whitener. Cailan, you may remember, recently took over a location on the ground floor of the Far East Plaza to open what he calls an an experimental event space.

Whitener, who recently spent three years at Animal as chef de cuisine, and before that cooked at Craft, Patina and Mezze here in Los Angeles, Marche Moderne in Costa Mesa and Mirazur, a 2-star Michelin restaurant in France, will soon be opening his own restaurant. Called Here's Looking At You, it's expected to open in the spring in Koreatown.

As a preview to that project, Whitener and restaurant partner Lien Ta, who worked in the front of the house at Animal, are doing a one-night dinner event at Unit 120 on Jan. 27.

The $75 dinner will have three seatings, and include family-style dishes such as unagi, or freshwater eel, with mole negro, polenta and hazelnut dukkah; smoked pork rack with Nameko mushrooms, beans, brown butter and Meyer lemon; and beef tartare with red chile, egg yolk, turnips and aioli. There will also be wine available to buy, and a Mai Tai communal punch bowl. The dinner will have three seatings; check the site for details. 

"It's Modern American food, which is kind of vague," says Whitener of the food he'll be cooking at both the dinner and his upcoming restaurant. "A lot of it will be influenced by growing up in Orange County, where I was surrounded by Mexican and Vietnamese food. My training has been mostly traditional French cuisine, and I kind of melt that technique and apply it to more worldly cuisines." The chef says that  the style will be "small plates to share, with a couple larger formatted things. I want it to be approachable."

Ta says that when she and Whitener were location scouting for a restaurant, they were attracted to Koreatown for many reasons, not least because of the neighborhood on 6th Street and Oxford Avenue. "It's the heart of Los Angeles, it's dead center."

Here's Looking At You will go into the space previously occupied by Whiz, a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich place, expanded to include a couple other adjacent storefronts. 

"Alvin is an old friend of mine and knew about our project," says Ta. "I think so many supporters of ours don't even know what they're supporting." So the one-night dinner will function not only as a preview for their friends and people wanting to try out new food from new chefs, but for those supporters and potential investors. 

The name, by the way, is not a reference to "Casablanca," but to an old cocktail toast. Hence, perhaps, the Mai Tai punch bowl. 

Unit 120, 727 N. Broadway, Los Angeles.

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