Baroo, the tiny experimental restaurant specializing in fermentation-forward bowls of vegetables and grains, is closing permanently at the end of October, almost three years to the date after it first opened in a Hollywood mini-mall. Chef-owner Kwang Uh, who has been running the kitchen himself since business partner Matthew Kim left a few months ago, said the business just isn’t sustainable.
Uh took a sabbatical for the first half of last year to return to his native South Korea and work at Baegyangsa temple with Buddhist monk and noted chef Jeong Kwan (who was featured in Season 3 of “Chef’s Table”) while Kim ran the restaurant. The restaurant also closed for a month earlier this summer while both men, friends since college in South Korea, were back in their home country. This time Uh said the doors will close for good on Oct. 27, with proceeds from the last day of service going to a charity that works to alleviate hunger.
For the last month, Uh and girlfriend Mina Park — the couple met at Kwan’s temple — will put many of the original Baroo dishes back on the menu, including the kimchi fried rice, the noorook grain bowl and the oxtail ragu. They’re also looking “for the right space or opportunity” for Uh’s next project, said Park, who is from the Midwest and previously ran a private kitchen in Hong Kong.
“It’s not the end,” Uh said. “I need to find a new beginning.”
Uh went to culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, interned at Picholine, cooked at Daniel and Nobu Bahamas, then staged at René Redzepi’s Copenhagen restaurant Noma before heading to L.A. to open his first restaurant in 2015. Baroo, named for the food bowl used by Buddhist monks, was a James Beard Award semi-finalist for best new restaurant in 2016 and was on Bon Appétit’s 2016 list of best new restaurants. The restaurant, which never put up a sign, features a chalkboard menu, a communal table and two counters. The interior design mainly consists of tall shelves filled with fermentation jars and tubs, and stacks of cookbooks on most available surfaces.
In the next few weeks, Uh and Park cautioned, Baroo will be as under-staffed as ever, “a one-man show,” as Park described it. “If you don’t like hectic, it’s probably better not to come,” Uh said. So go anyway and be patient. There are plenty of excellent cookbooks to read while you wait.