The excellence of Kinn in Koreatown and why it paid off to delay a review

Springtime bibimbap at Kinn, a small tasting-menu restaurant in Koreatown.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

It became clear right away that Kiyong “Ki” Kim was bringing a fresh and ambitious perspective to Korean flavors with his restaurant Kinn in Koreatown.

His 20-seat space opened late in 2021, veering almost immediately from a la carte to a succinct, unfussy tasting-menu format. I had my first meal there in February 2022. The cooking was technically sharp, and the dishes, while rooted in Korean traditions, were full of L.A.-leaning cultural references.

Where Kinn has been and where it’s arrived

The meal began with a take on a taco, the shell scrupulously crafted from seaweed sheets crisped in two ways (dehydration and frying) to ensure each one held its shape. Truffle lurked in there somewhere, but I mostly remember avocado and a top, frilly layer of romaine.


Then came a riff on Peruvian ceviche, inspired by a Korean soup of raw fish in chilled broth called mulhwe, made with branzino, smoked trout roe and paper-thin slices of sweet potato. “Crispy octopus with gochujang aioli,” an involved dish that was and remains Kim’s signature, arrived next.

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Afterward there was mackerel showered with grated horseradish, which reminded me of the combination of gefilte fish and horseradish I’ve had at friends’ Passover seders; dehydrated and marinated beets that mimicked galbi; and a rice course that invoked ssambap but with wilted spinach rather than lettuce wraps. Dessert was a clever course called Pig Ice Cream that drew from the flavors of a Korean frozen treat called Pig Bar. The original includes vanilla ice cream, a strawberry gel center and a chocolate crunch exterior; Kim’s homage-in-a-bowl was built around milk ice cream with a chunky strawberry puree, crumbled cookies and, teetering on top, thin shortbread cut out in the shape of a pig.

The meal finished and I thought: This place is enormously promising. I’m going to give it some time before I write about it.

A year and a half later, The Times published my review this week.

An aproned man holds up an orange-ish octopus in each hand inside a restaurant.
Ki Kim holds up Spanish octopus, the centerpiece of his signature dish, inside Kinn.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Kim’s thought process behind the menu, which rotates roughly every season, has evolved tremendously. I admire how alive he keeps the dishes. I had two meals during the “Spring 2023” run, at the end of March and the beginning of May. Between then the conception of some courses, including a reviving take on icy, milky bingsoo involving blackberry syrup, had been revised — and improved.

‘Radical’ is the only word

Waiting to write a review until Kinn had settled more into its identity, and developed into the destination I now believe it to be, felt organic. But somewhere in the middle of it I flashed to the beginning of my critic career in Atlanta 21 years ago. (Gulp. That went fast.) Back then, as in most U.S. cities, there were three major critics: one at the daily newspaper, one at the alternative newsweekly (that was me) and the third at the monthly city magazine. The rule — maybe unspoken, maybe gleaned at the conferences I regularly attended that were held by the now-defunct Association of Food Journalists, I can’t recall — was that you gave restaurants a month before reviewing them. Yes, customers usually were paying full price from the moment a place opened, but the goal was to be fair about letting a business find its footing for a few weeks before pouncing.

No brief words can articulate how radically the journalism landscape has changed since then. But I’ll keep it concise to say that I think very differently about reviews now. Very few places about which I write can be considered “secrets” or “discoveries” for our readership. (I’ve never been big in my work on the notion of “discovery.”) If you care about food in Los Angeles, you’ve likely heard of Kinn even if you haven’t been. Local food publications covered its arrival widely; my colleagues Stephanie Breijo and Jenn Harris reported the opening and shared first thoughts, respectively.

So then what can I bring to the conversation? The widest, deepest angles of consideration, I hope. The more sharply focused lens that comes with multiple visits. The privilege of having these appraisals as my primary job, and the way they might inform the annual 101 Best Restaurants guide.


The when of appraising a place is more subjective than ever, but there’s a case-by-case logic behind it. The subject of next week’s review opened this winter. A team member, one of my favorite food professionals in the city, joined this place after the first rounds of opening reports, and I’m excited to write about their return to the dining room.

Kinn’s time felt right after 18 months. If you went straight away, as did one of my friends who murmured polite-ish things about an earlier meal when she saw my piece, you might consider returning. When I brood over the future of finer dining in Los Angeles, how it might taste and how the experience might feel, Kim has inched up to top of mind.

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Tokyo dining tips, the story that went galloping ... and plenty more

— Any chance you’re headed to Japan this year? After the country reopened for tourism in October, plenty of us are. As a coda to our team-wide sushi package, I wrote a guide to more than a dozen of my favorite recent dining experiences in Tokyo, including the tiny cocktail bar I can’t stop thinking about.

A cocktail in a shallow glass sits on a counter as a chef works in the background
A cocktail made with pureed Momotaro tomatoes, Scotch and shiso at Gen Yamamoto in Tokyo.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Julie Wolfson was also recently in Tokyo, and she wrote about a mind-bending coffee omakase.

— “A chef of popular Los Angeles restaurant Horses accused her husband and business partner of killing the family’s cats in a divorce filing in which she also asked for a domestic violence restraining order,” begins the piece published this week by Noah Goldberg and Stephanie Breijo. The allegations made by Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian dominated food-world news this week.

— Who owns the phrase “Taco Tuesday”? Stephanie also reported on Taco Bell’s campaign to cancel federal trademarks for the phrase.

— Stephanie also details the opening of Topanga Social food hall in Canoga Park. Many marquee restaurants are involved. Among them: Mini Kabob, I Love Micheladas from the owners of Guelaguetza, Katsu Sando, Amboy Quality Burgers, Wanderlust Creamery and Mad Lab Coffee.


Jenn Harris centers her column this week on the amazing-sounding quesadillas fritas from El Capitalino MX in Inglewood. Also, she has recommendations for some new favorites in New York.

— Finally, to bring it full circle to Kinn, Jean Trinh has an accompanying story about Ki Kim’s recent trip to his native South Korea earlier this year, and the five ingredients he reconnected with there that he thinks all of us should be using in our home cooking.