A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That - Yangban Society [Thoughts + Pics]

One of the newest, high profile restaurants to open during the pandemic, Yangban Society is the first independent restaurant from Chef-Co-Owner Katianna Hong and her husband, Chef-Co-Owner John Hong. According to their website, both chefs worked at L.A.'s fine dining French restaurant Melisse, under Chef Josiah Citrin, before moving up north to work at The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley. Chef Katianna would eventually become the Chef de Cuisine when The Restaurant at Meadowood earned 3 Michelin Stars. So, this huge, fine dining pedigree precedes both chefs as they open Yangban Society.

Walking into Yangban Society, the restaurant is very much geared towards a casual vibe. It’s a combination Deli and Market, where you can order various deli case items by the pound and you walk up and pay at the register. And there’s nothing wrong with going casual. In fact, given the current pandemic climate, trying to replicate what they did with Michelin 3 Star fine dining would’ve probably been a very hard sell.

Looking over the menu, there are deli case refrigerated items that you can order by the pound, as well as some cooked dishes you order off a small menu. The offerings are curious and a bit scattershot at first glance: There are certainly some Korean cuisine accents and influences from the menu descriptions, but then there are some items that are totally American or something else. For example, there’s Chilled Dotori Acorn Noodles (Roasted Korean Seaweed, Fried Garlic, Shallots, Pickled Perilla Seeds, and Shirodashi Vinaigrette) which eats like a refreshing chilled Korean Noodles dish, but then they also serve Deli Pickles (like what you’d enjoy with a Langer’s Pastrami Sandwich), and an Organic Egg Salad. We were curious how this might turn out.

A Selection of Deli Case Side Dishes:

Egg Salad (Steamed & Chopped Farm Eggs, Mayonnaise, Chives, Dill):

This tasted like a solid Egg Salad, nothing more, nothing less. Eggy, creamy, the Dill came through in every bite. The only issue is, what do you eat this with? By itself it gets overwhelming after a couple of bites.

It turns out they had Potato Bread that you could order (on the side) for $7 (+ tax & tip) which was the only thing that really paired with this. :expressionless:

Now the Griddled Potato Bread was tasty, but a bit greasy. It arrived hot off the griddle (nice), and it tasted like a denser English Muffin, but covered in oil from being griddled.

Twice Fried Magic Myrna Potatoes (Smashed and Fried, Seasoned with Brown Butter, Fish Sauce Caramel, Cilantro, Fried Shallots, Lemon Juice, Scallions):

This sounded delicious, but sadly was just OK, if a little bit off-putting: The Potatoes were room temperature (but actually would’ve been cold if it wasn’t for the fact we caught this side dish just as it came out of the kitchen and was about to be put into the refrigerated deli case). However, none of the advertised flavors came through except Caramel. Not “Fish Sauce Caramel,” but just straight up Caramel. It was a bit disturbing, as the Potatoes turned out candy sweet(!). :frowning: There was nothing Korean about this dish either, but it tasted like a strange American fusion dish.

Coal Roasted Cabbage and Oro Blanco Slaw (Dressed in Ssamjang Vinaigrette):

I don’t like my Salads overdressed and don’t need a ton of sauce on various dishes, but this Coal Roasted Cabbage and Oro Blanco Slaw was… underseasoned and very light. It tasted like Chilled Cabbage with a very weak, unseasoned Vinaigrette of some sort (nondescript). For something super light, sure, this might be OK ordering, but advertising it as “Coal Roasted Cabbage” and having no real flavor in the Cabbage was a bit disappointing.

Soybean Doenjang Hummus:

This is another example of the American Deli-style food Yangban was serving that felt a bit out-of-place. There was no Pita Bread, no Chips, etc. So what do you eat this with? Taking a spoonful of Hummus straight up was fine, but not really that pleasurable. Eating it with some Steamed Rice? That was odd. Eating it with their Griddled Potato Bread was the best option and it worked, sorta. The Potato Bread is greasy (right off the griddle) and mixed with ice-cold Hummus it just felt like this clash of extremes. The actual Hummus itself? It tasted like a quality Housemade Hummus, but nothing more, nothing less.

Mushroom Namul with Bracken Fern:

This was the highlight of their Deli Case items, a Banchan-esque small plate of super aromatic Stewed Mushrooms mixed with Bracken Fern. There’s a real umami flavor coming out of each bite, in a way that only roasted / stewed / cooked down Mushrooms can achieve.

Chilled Dotori Acorn Noodles (Roasted Korean Seaweed, Fried Garlic, Shallots, Pickled Perilla Seeds, and Shirodashi Vinaigrette):

This was pretty refreshing and very light. A sort of cross between Naengmyeon (Korean Cold Noodles) and Hiyashi Chuka (Japanese Chilled Ramen), the Acorn Noodles had a light nutty, delicate earthy quality, less earthy than Soba / Buckwheat Noodles.

Kimchi Pozole (Stew of Pork Belly, Aged Kimchi, Assorted Chiles, Rancho Gordy Hominy):

This was their boldest flavored dish of the entire visit, a Korean-Mexican Fusion dish which was rather smart, mixing Aged Kimchi into a Mexican Pozole. The Kimchi provided the chili heat you’re used to seeing in a standard version, and it did add a bit more vegetal funk (very slight) to the Soup itself. Tasty, warming and interesting.

Beef “Galbi” Back Ribs (2 Pieces) (Brandt Beef Back Ribs Marinated & Grilled Over Charcoal):

Instead of the Flanken-Style Beef Short Ribs that are usually used in Korean BBQ Galbi, Chef Katianna and team have decided to use whole pieces of Beef Back Ribs, which was an interesting change. Taking a bite… this tasted like Grilled Ribs. Period. :expressionless:

They weren’t bad at all. The Beef was tender and cooked down to a fall-off-the bone consistency, but there was no smokiness, and it felt like you were eating a Non-Smoked version of American BBQ Beef Ribs. Nothing about this dish said “Galbi” at all. The seasoning was perhaps too light, because it just tasted like it was properly salted and you could taste the beefiness, but that was it.

That said, it was tasty, but the portion was small - 2 Ribs that were slightly meatier than 2 Pork Ribs (and about the same size length-wise) - for $23 (+ tax & tip). No Sauces nor any Sides with this.

Golden Millet Rice:

So in a bit of sticker shock, 1 small bowl of Steamed Rice (yes, there was some Millet in there, but it was very little and added no taste) (smaller than a bowl you’d get at an average Japanese or Chinese restaurant around town) is $4 (+ tax & tip). :frowning:

The sad part was, the Steamed Rice was overcooked and soggy. There was nothing about this Rice that said “High Quality Rice that the Restaurant Cares About Making”. Wadatsumi’s Rice (which you get for free with each bowl / combo), this is not.

Garlic Buchu Fries:

Their Garlic Buchu Fries were pretty tasty, utilizing Buchu (Garlic Chives) tossed with just-fried French Fries were aromatic, pungent, nicely salted and lightly crispy with a starchy interior. :slight_smile:

It was at this point that Yangban Society felt like it was really “nickel-and-diming” the customer. Their Garlic Fries are $7 (+ tax & tip) for a smallish size order, and it comes with no dipping sauces (not even Ketchup). You have to pay $1 for any Dipping Sauce to accompany the Fries.

Doenjang Tahini Sauce:

This sounded quite interesting. Taste-wise? Funky, punchy, earthy, but also a bit, thin-creamy. The Doenjang (Soybean Paste) and Tahini was a unique combination, but it didn’t work for my taste buds, and it didn’t match well with the hot Fries at all.

2nd Visit:

On our 2nd visit, there were plenty of Instagram hamsters crowding the place, taking photos and busy posting and texting it seemed.

Pea Shoot and Chive (Soy Dashi Apple Vinaigrette, Toasted Crumbs, Korean Chili Flakes):

One of the last Deli Cold Case items we didn’t get to try last time, the Pea Shoot and Chive side dish was cool and pungent. The Raw Pea Shoots and Chives were tamed by a heavy dose of their Soy Dashi Apple Vinaigrette, which a bit too much Apple Vinegar coming through and dominating the dish.

Gwangjang Market Rice Bowl (Golden Millet Rice, Broccolini, Bean Sprouts, Greens, Ground Beef “Bulgogi”, Gochujang Sauce (Add Egg +$2)):

In a curious marketing move, during our 1st visit (Grand Opening week), they called this dish “Bibimbap”, but for this 2nd visit, they’ve dropped the Korean name, and simply call it their “Gwangjang Market Rice Bowl.”

Like a standard Korean Bibimbap, you’re presented with all the ingredients separated and with Gochujang Sauce on the side. You then mix everything together and add as much Gochujang Sauce as you like.

Taking a bite, this was a solid Korean Bibimbap. We’ve had better versions in Koreatown from mom & pop shops, but this was fine. It actually wasn’t as refreshing as the best versions of Bibimbap we’ve had around town, but we’d gladly order it again if we were in the area, although at ~$23 ($18 + tax & tip), it feels a bit pricey.

Biscuits and “Kare” Gravy (Layered Buttermilk Biscuits, Korean Curry Gravy with Beef, Pork, Carrots, Onions, and Peas):

This looked amazing. The Layered Biscuits had a nice crispness to them, but the “Korean Gravy” tasted a bit like a watered down version of S&B Curry with loose chunks of Ground Beef and Pork. It was OK, but it lacked the unctuousness and “comfort food” quality of a great Curry. This was an interesting take on the classic American dish of “Biscuits & Gravy” (now using a “Korean Curry” instead of regular Gravy), but the flavors tasted muted and a bit thin / watery.

"Beans and Greens" (Braised Kale, Soybeans, Aged Beef Rib):

Another nice-sounding dish, this tasted like a solid, comforting Mediterranean-style Tuscan White Bean & Kale Soup, except the White / Cannellini Beans were replaced by Soybeans. You couldn’t really taste any Aged Beef Rib, which was unfortunate. This was probably our favorite bite on this 2nd visit, just a solid Mediterranean-style Soup.

Baked Sea Bream (Sea Bream, Chili Daikon Paste, Toasted Breadcrumbs):

Reading the menu description, we were hoping this might be Chef Katianna’s interpretation of the classic Korean dish, Daegu Jorim (Braised Black Cod) perhaps, but instead, this was a perfectly Baked & Pan Fried Sea Bream Filet in Brown Butter, and topped with toasted crunchy Breadcrumbs. This was well executed, if a bit oily / greasy (with so much Brown Butter Sauce), but perfectly cooked through Sea Bream. :slight_smile: We couldn’t really taste any Korean cuisine influence here, even though the menu said there’s a Chili Daikon Paste, that flavor didn’t come through.

Yangban Society feels like a mishmash of different ideas and influences that from their website and various interviews are a reflection of the 2 Chef-Owners’ personal history and journey. In a ways it feels like Birdie G’s and its whiplash-inducing menu at times, except even more casual. At Yangban Society, you can order American Deli-style Pickles, Cabbage Slaw, Hummus, Hot Smoked Trout “Schmear” or Egg Salad, with the only decent carb pairing being an order of their Griddled Potato Bread. Or you can get Korean Banchan-esque offerings like Danmuji Pickles, or Chilled Acorn Noodles with Korean Seaweed.

Their hot food items (that you also order at the counter) include Beef “Galbi” Back Ribs, which don’t taste anything like traditional Korean BBQ Galbi, Garlic Fries, a decent Bibimbap in the form of their Gwangjang Market Rice Bowl, or a crispy-crunchy Baked Sea Bream, which would be at home at any decent American Seafood restaurant.

There’s nothing wrong with Yangban Society and we enjoyed their Beans & Greens Kale Soup and Kimchi Pozole, but there was also nothing compelling nor stellar about our visits, either. We averaged about ~$60 - 70 per person on these visits, which felt a bit pricey for what we got. If this is a chance for the Chefs to let their hair down and cook super casual, random food, I’m glad they’re finding fulfillment in that. But as a customer trying to engage with their menu, it feels like a very disparate, random collection of dishes that are hard to enjoy a cohesive meal around. Hopefully over time, they’ll find a culinary direction and focus and improve their flavors.

Yangban Society
712 S. Santa Fe Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90021


I agree with you that the egg salad is nothing but very ordinary, it does pair well with the Kimchi Ppang and surprisingly provides nice balance to the somewhat earthy dotori acorn noodles.

Did you try the buffalo milk soft serve? Good stuff.

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Hi @ipsedixit ,

Thanks. How in the world did you think to pair Egg Salad with Dotori Acorn Noodles (w/ Korean Seaweed)? :open_mouth: :slight_smile: Thanks for that tip. Not sure I’m in a rush to go back just to try that, but good to know.

We didn’t try their soft serve, but I’ll keep it in mind for a future visit, thanks.

Did you not find the noodles a bit flat, and one-note? Just sort of salty. It needed a bit of fat, and some body.

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Hi @ipsedixit ,

:slight_smile: Yes, good point. It was a bit flat and one note (great description). Interesting idea at that point to mix in Egg Salad. :slight_smile: Thanks.

We were here earlier today, and I just feel like this place is one of the most overrated places to have opened up thus far in DTLA/Arts District.

Call me hater, but it is what it is.

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Hi @ipsedixit ,

Thanks for the report back. I agree with you. 2 visits and even with some time to reflect on it, nothing was outstanding, and for the price (it feels about 200% - 250% of the value of what you get), we’d rather go elsewhere.