It's rare that food can be such a masterpiece. Rarer still is food like this that comes from an unmarked strip-mall stall. Of all the chefs I've tried, I can count the ones that rival Baroo on a single hand. But those chefs, there is not a single one that hasn't achieved international fame and acclaim; not a single one of them hides out in this humble, single-room, twenty-seater where Kwang Uh soldiers on.
Everything is different at Baroo. With all the variations on a theme I've seen, all the unusual, the bizarre, the good, the bad, the original, the inexplicable; I've seen nothing like Baroo. Heralded as a "fermentation lab" by LA Weekly and the LA Times, Baroo does deliver mason jars of curiosities but also so much more.
A trip to Baroo cannot be completed without a dish of pickles, however, and the feisty Red Onion with a dash of rose smooths out the vinegar sting, and the Cabbage with pineapple jus crunches in a matter so satisfying, borne on a wave of tropical tang.
Fermentation is preserver of food, but it is also an incubator of thirst. I swore I'd never give into the Kombucha cult, but water will never quench my curiosity. How to describe kombucha? The fermentation resembles harsh carbonation, initially a hint of sweet, ending acidic and almost metallic. An acquired taste, for sure, but one acquired readily, with surprisingly little resistance. The Elderflower is a fragrant melody, staccato and sophisticated. The Lemon Verbena is cold and refreshing, the pickle juice from a jar of lemon peel.
Ordering isn't easy at Baroo. The chalkboard menu is thoroughly descriptive, but I have no way to anticipate what anything will taste like, no inkling of what each order holds.
The Asian Fever is chosen for its name. Long grains of Amira basmati rice form a textured base for this dish, spiced up with a "southeast asian inspired house mix" that coats each pan-seared grain equally, individually. The bite bites back as a lighter lemongrass sinks into sake lees while coconut foam floats on air. There's a hint of citrus lime, and a crispy shrimp chip adds an unexpected element of ocean.
Handmade pasta gets a fist-pumping "yes", and Baroo's Ragu Style is not a choice - it's a must. The spicy oxtail "faux ragu" is dense and so rich you can feel it sink down clear into your toes. Tendon puff is a lighter, equally savory twist on a traditional pork rind. the tomato and gremolata is the Mediterranean essence while gochujang throws in with parmigiano reggiano for an epic east-meets-west.
We choose the Noorook for its name, a red wonder is what came. A heaven of grains formed by Jobs tears, farro, and kamut ferry a sweet beet creme. Kombu dashi adds a dash of attitude, and toasted seeds are plucked up by onion pickles and fingerlime for a dish so grounded you could imagine eating it straight from the earth.
The Karma Circulation. A rice-on-rice bowl sounds almost boring under a blackboard like Baroo's, but the rice bowl that rules all rice bowls is anything but. The KFChicken is the tenderest chicken this lifetime will see, breaded so flawlessly and seasoned so effortlessly I could have sworn it was born that way. Gochujang aioli seeps into the crevices created by rice and corn, and a soft-boiled egg in a bath of chili soy is an add-on option that transforms chicken-rice to a golden goose.
The Celeriac started as an afterthought. My dislike for the crude, all-encompassing, all-suppressing crudite was never a secret, but curiosity is an unrelenting master. The handmade pasta is absolutely perfect to no one's surprise, but the celery root in cloudy cream is absolutely captivating. The root vegetable version is earthier and more grounded than the fleeting after-school snack, and it pulls me deep into the dish, a celery-reverie that breaks only when the last bite is gone.
I don't know how to describe Baroo. It is so different, so unlike anything I've seen. The menu is diary into the brilliant mind of a chef like none other, a playground into a genius soul. Each dish hits deeply, and every bite hits hard. Yet the flavors have an air of whimsy, an element of rarely-forgotten fun. Each individual ingredient is placed with intention, and every flavor serves a certain purpose, a piece of a far more complex puzzle. I don't know if I'll ever piece it all together, but I sure will enjoy every minute I try.