After my first visit to Hanbun, an unlikely haute Korean spot in an unprepossessing shopping mall in the suburb of Westmont, I found myself defending the restaurant to a snobby friend who scoffed at the idea of driving that far to eat in a food court. “But the place is run by this adorable couple!” I exclaimed, going on to explain that Hanbun does flawless renditions of traditional Korean food by day and private white-tablecloth BYO dinners by night. “The chef got nominated for a James Beard Award!” My friend remained unconvinced.
Since then, word has gotten out: David Park’s creative takes show remarkable understanding of the cuisine of his native Korea. The hearty and nicely caramelized bulgogi ($11) for lunch is every bit as gratifying as the seven-course juhnyuk (dinner) tasting menu ($75), which includes labor-intensive productions such as a bokkeum of octopus—a spicy, sauce-based preparation that’s simmered for three hours, glazed with its reduced stock fortified by chili pepper paste, olive oil, and garlic, and served with parsnip and fermented garlic. At presstime, the dinner was booked through November (weekend reservations book four to six months out). Among those waiting? My snobby city friend.