Naemo, a new Modern Korean pop-up has arrived in L.A. From Chef Ki Kim (Matsuhisa) and front-of-the-house Manager Arnold Byun, who’s worked at Eleven Madison Park (NY). Per their website and in chatting, they bring the experiences of working at Michelin-starred restaurants to Korean cuisine. The website pics are beautiful, so the visuals are locked in, but how would it taste? We couldn’t wait to try.
Currently, Naemo is popping up at various restaurants around L.A. They are supposedly doing a collaboration with the chefs at each restaurant they pop-up at, and for this month or so, it’s with Hanchic, a modern / fusion Korean restaurant in K-town. We also met up with a good friend (socially distanced) from Seoul, who wanted to see what this new Korean cuisine would taste like.
This Spring Gujeolpan meal was sold as portioned for 2 people. When we opened it up, it was beautiful to look at, but in the end, it was probably more like a meal for 1.5 people at best, and 1 very hungry person at most.
Hobak Muchim (Yellow Zucchini Tossed in Fish Sauce, Sesame):
Very lightly seasoned, but the Fish Sauce added some nice briny funkiness and seasoning.
Rib Eye Jorim (Stewed Boneless Prime Rib Eye with Quail Eggs):
Delicious! While everything being room-temperature worked for most items, we did wish that the Prime Rib Eye was actually warm / hot. But regardless, a nice rich, beefy flavor, tender, moist and delicate seasoning. There was sufficient salt to make this stand out and it was the highlight of the meal.
Romanesco Dubu (Romanesco Broccoli Tossed with Broken Tofu):
Flavorless. Note: I prefer dishes to be lightly salted rather than heavily salted. I enjoy eating healthy Salads and will eat light vegan meals with my vegan friends regularly (before the pandemic). But this Romanesco Dubu tasted like it had zero Salt, and no other flavors(!).
Our Korean friend texted us after their meal and said the same thing.
Spring Chaeso (Radicchio Salad Tossed in Korean Plum Vinaigrette):
While our menu listed this as “Radicchio Salad,” what we got was Romaine Lettuce. Perhaps they ran out of ingredients? This tasted like a very lightly dressed Romaine Salad, with nothing else inside.
Sigumchi Namul (Bloomsdale Spinach, Shallots, Sesame, Soy Sauce):
Practically flavorless. This tasted mainly of Boiled Spinach. There were clearly bits of Shallots in the Spinach but what you got on the palate was just… Boiled Spinach (with almost no sodium / flavor).
Myulchi Bokkeum (Anchovies, Dried Shrimp, Walnuts, Dates):
Finally, something with flavor! Nice oceanic spike from the Anchovies, the Dried Shrimp really amped up the brininess, and the Walnuts and Dates lent a sweet, nuttiness as well.
Mushroom Medley (Sautéed Enoki, Shimeji, Oyster Mushrooms, Carrots):
This was another menu discrepancy: We did not get a “Mushroom Medley” but instead got… Potato Salad with Carrots on top. This tasted pretty average.
Jidan Mari (Seasoned Eggs Rolled with Perilla Leaf):
This was fine: Thin sheets of cooked Scrambled Eggs mixed with some Perilla Leaf. It looked suspiciously like a riff off of Perilla L.A.'s Egg Banchan from Chef Jihee Kim, except more clumsy.
The actual taste was fine. But Perilla L.A.'s version was better executed, more moist and flavorful.
Spring Namul Bap (Chapsal Rice, Namul, Ikura, Radish):
The only thing that was really made for 2 people was the Namul Bap / Rice. They gave 2 full portions of this Rice dish per order. While visually it looked more interesting than just Steamed White Rice, the actual flavor was underwhelming: The Namul vegetables were underseasoned, the Rice itself tasted like… Steamed White Rice, a bit sloppy, overly wet, and the Ikura was the only thing giving it some salinity (which is fine I guess). The overall balance of taste? Sort of basic.
When Naemo is charging ~$120 for this box meal, with the portion size for each quadrant of this box being enough for really ~1.5 people at most (or 1 hungry person), the QPR isn’t there. More importantly, the flavors are just missing on every single item except the Rib Eye and the Anchovies.
Naemo has the visuals and nice packaging, made for the Instagram crowd, but the execution and underseasoning really undermine the final product. Our Korean friend from Seoul texted us later and said the same thing: Nice presentation, but there was no flavor. I really wanted to like Naemo and I still root for them to improve. Perhaps it was because of the “collaboration” with Hanchic that caused this? But Hanchic itself has some solid, tasty dishes, so it feels like something deeper. Here’s to hoping they can turn it around and have flavors to match the visuals.
Check their website for availability and their next pop-up series.