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Early Bird: Bann Restaurant

Young Sook Choi opens a glossy outpost of his New York restaurant in Koreatown. The menu is both traditional and trendy, the grills are on the tables, and the service is fast and friendly.

July 12, 2010|By S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic

Remember the original Woo Lae Oak spot on Western just north of Wilshire? Well, restaurateur Young Sook Choi, who developed the Woo Lae Oak concept, has completely remodeled the space as the site for a West Coast version of Bann Restaurant and Lounge, his Korean restaurant in New York's Soho district.

Bann restaurant: The Early Bird restaurant story in Monday's Calendar section said that the old Woo Lae Oak space, the current location of Bann restaurant, is "below" Wilshire. It is just north of Wilshire. —

This Bann pulls out all the stops with its design, which features soaring ceilings hung with giant stylized lanterns. Grills are set into rust-and-green marble tables, with no hoods in sight. Instead, each grill has a fan that sucks up the smoke from the charcoal at table height. Unlike more traditional Korean barbecue joints, here your clothes won't end up smelling of beef and smoke, so you can wear your best. And guests do dress for this glossy new restaurant.

While the menu deploys the usual barbecue cuts, such as kalbi (short ribs), rib-eye, shrimp, squid and beef tripe, it also offers more trendy dishes, especially in the first courses. Naturally, you can find such classics as Korean-style steak tartare and mandu (dumplings) to start off a meal here, but you might as well try something different, like the tempura-fried green peppers stuffed with whitefish or minced chicken gizzard wrapped in sesame leaves and then browned. You might be pleasantly surprised.

It's worth noting that if you order barbecue, you don't get the usual dozen side dishes (or at least we didn't), but a smaller selection with a choice of white or brown rice. I've had better kalbi elsewhere, though Bann's is very decent. In fact, with our group, the beef didn't go as fast as the thinly sliced beef tongue, which cooked quickly and got caramelized and brown on the edges. We couldn't gobble it up fast enough.

On a single visit, I barely dipped into the menu. You can also order a number of traditional main courses, including raw fresh blue crab in spicy sauce, hot pots and rice and noodle dishes.

Here's one restaurant without a loud soundtrack, with plenty of waiters to go around, and food that comes out of the kitchen fast, making dinner at Bann relaxing and fun, and better experienced with a group of friends than as a couple. You can try more dishes that way.

There's valet parking too — for an astonishing $2.

Bann Restaurant

Where: 623 S. Western Ave. (at Wilshire Boulevard), Los Angeles.

When: Open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Happy hour, 4 to 7 p.m. daily.

Cost: Starters, $8 each or three for $21; starters for sharing, $10 to $21; barbecue items, $18 to $27; traditional entrees, $18 to $28; hot pots, $22; rice and noodle dishes, $5 to $18; soups and stews, $12 to $18; dessert, $6 to $8.

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