Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chego: Bowl Full of Heat or Hype?

So, let's bask for a minute in the uncertainty of the "did she like it or not?" moment.


Alright, now that's over with.

As a die-hard fan of the Kogi Truck -- there's a reason I tolerate the rapid-fire stream of location tweets cluttering my Twitter feed on a daily basis -- I, of course, had sky-high expectations of the place. What Roy Choi does with flavor is a bit like a symphony orchestra playing Hendrix (on electric guitars... with their teeth) -- the fundamentals are high-class, but the soul is there, with much respect paid to the ingredients.

So one spectacular summer night, I find myself in Culver City, looking for dinner. Jackpot. I locate Chego (the super-cute bright orange sign certainly helps), park on the street (the lot is tiny, but welcome to L.A.), and walk my happy self to the door.

Once in, I see that the place is hopping. There's a communal table space (mostly commandeered by a big group), a stool/bench area (usually my preference, but some rogue children from the big group rendered it temporarily undesirable for me), and a stand-n-eat section (no thanks; I'm taking my time). I zero in on an outdoor table with my name all over it before placing my order with the (intensely friendly) counter guy:

A Sour Cream Hen House bowl
A Sriracha Bar
A Mandarin Jarritos to wash it all down.

When the waiter walked out with my glorious bowl o' food, the splash of color and texture immediately struck me. Some rice bowls are not pretty (see: Yoshinoya). This thing was so gorgeous, it was like the cast of LOST. (Which would make Yoshinoya's bowls akin to the banjo kid from Deliverance. Aww, I miss those pretty LOST people and their island. But I digress...)

My Sour Cream Hen House bowl had a melange of flavors and textures -- spicy, tangy, starchy, crunchy, creamy, cool, crazy... (Annnd now this is starting to sound like West Side Story.) The Chinese broccoli stalks were perfectly crisp, the brown rice was saturated with some terrifically umami flavors, the fried egg was oozy (but not in a worrisome way), and the fresh herb combo (cilantro and Thai basil) added a nice freshness to the dish.

And then there's the spicy stuff. The sour cream sambal paired with red jalapenos is an evil genius duo. First, you taste the spicy sambal, which is balanced by the sour cream in a comforting, cooling, "everything is okay, don't reach for your drink just yet" kind of way. Then POW! come the chilies, sneaking in just when you think all is safe. ADVICE! Wait out the burn -- you're gonna blow through that Jarritos pretty quickly if you're a wuss about every little bite.

After powering through the entire bowl (partly because the spiciness made it nearly impossible to stop, partly because it tasted too good to WANT to stop), I had no room left for the Sriracha Bar, a confection from Chego/Kogi pastry chef Beth Kellerhals's Double Chin Desserts line. So I took it with me...

[cut to the next day]

The bright spot in my otherwise ordinary workday was THE SRIRACHA BAR. That hot-sauce-infused caramel goo sitting on slab of chocolate-coated crisped rice, covered with spicy-sweet peanuts and dark chocolate... Pretty darn good. Truth be told, I had built it up in my head as more, but would absolutely get it again and recommend it to others. And if I ever come across a stash of that sriracha caramel, I will descend upon it like Winnie the Pooh with a pot of 'hunny' and run for my life...

Basically, if you haven't been already, you should be on your way right now.

3300 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034

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