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RESTAURANTS : THE SCENE SETTER

At Jian, we're not in K-Town anymore

June 26, 2008|Jessica Gelt

GETTING a self-grilled meat fix west of Western is blasphemous to many Korean barbecue zealots. Yet, with the opening of Jian BBQ on the corner of Beverly and Sweetzer, the devoted may begin occasionally straying from their natural habitat.

Those enamored with the loud and excessively smoky environments of K-town meat havens such as Soot Bull Jeep (with its disdainful servers and bus buckets filled with bloody juices) might find Jian a bit sterile. Opened by two Korean sisters, Ji Ryu and Mi Ahn (who combined their first and last names to create the word "Jian"), the restaurant is sleek and clean. A crying Buddha in a pond of drifting dry ice sulks beside the entrance, the bar is backed by stacked Japanese pinball screens called pachinko and big "Iron Man 28" robots guard the dining room. The grills are high-tech gas numbers, which suck smoke down and away before it has a chance to sully the air.

"You don't have to smell like barbecue and be followed by dogs when you leave the barbecue house," says Mi Ahn. This is a good thing, except when it's not. Sometimes the thick, blunt smell of charred meat is precisely what you crave when you grill.

The menu at Jian is pricey, but the meats offered are of high quality. Sliced beef rib-eye steak ($22) is thick and flavorful, tuna belly ($25) is soft and buttery and the spicy pork ($20) is sliced thin and coated with a smoky, piquant sauce. Each plate of meat comes with a thick chunk of white onion, a spear of asparagus and a stemless mushroom cap that, when grilled upside down, fills with sweet juice. The accompanying panchan (small bowls of appetizers) include vinegary and satisfying radish kimchi, sweet cucumber kimchi, cooked bean sprouts, broccoli, chewy dried anchovies and thin strips of cooked potato.

Traditional starters include warm edamame tossed in sesame oil and chili; jjookumi bokum, a mix of baby octopus, noodles, carrots, onion and zucchini; and denjang chigae, a thick miso and soybean paste soup crowded with vegetables, boiled pork and tofu. It's an intriguing dish that smells unnervingly like dirty socks but tastes like a Korean version of French onion soup.

Service is exceedingly friendly but a bit spotty. Drinks are slow coming and water is rarely refilled. Our server turned our grill up too high, causing the meat to stick and leaving us scrambling to extricate blackened chunks of overdone tuna from the lick of overzealous flame. Once we discovered our grill controls we caught our groove, settling on a hassle-free medium-low heat.

Still, these are kinks easily massaged away by time. Ji Ryu also owns an Italian restaurant in Seoul and knows how to bring exotic flavors to places craving them, so running an upscale Korean barbecue joint just down the street from the Beverly Center is something she should excel at. If that isn't enough, portions of the MTV "reality" show "The Hills" were recently filmed there, proving Jian knows few peers in exploiting flesh. 8256 Beverly Blvd., (323) 655-6556.

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-- Jessica.Gelt@latimes.com

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