Beef and friends
Last month I accompanied 11 of my closest friends on a trek up the stairs to Left Coast Artisan Burgers to see if the hype was worth it, and to see if they could handle our loud party of degenerates without any trouble. It was. They could. It was awesome.
Up the stairs, past Joe Lee and Michael Roy’s funkalicious mural, the place definitely had an upmarket San Francisco feel to it. “All three of us are from California,” says Un Koh who, along with James Chun and Angela Shin, filled the place with a west coast USA feel. “We’re exposed to great food from different cultures and a diverse cuisine there. … We decided to bring something like that to Seoul.”
And the burger — craft specialty burgers, not the fast food kind — he felt was a missing piece in the Korea puzzle. “They’re seen as something low-quality,” Koh says, just handfuls of fat and carbs. He wanted to change that perception, to provide a burger that is a “culinary experience” without a high price tag, so he hired himself a brilliant chef and opened his doors. “Norah (Chung) graduated from the French Culinary Institute and hails from San Francisco too. She gets every patty right. ... I’m kind of amazed by her.”
Local artists bedecked the walls in this laid-back joint (anyone interested in exhibiting can contact the owners), and the service was great, but it was the burgers themselves that won our hearts. One of my pals got the Peppers and Cheese burger, featuring a roasted chili pepper — not a bell pepper — stuffed with ricotta and jack cheese, then topped with bacon bits and a tomato pepper sauce. Another got the John Wayne Burger, with its BBQ sauce and surprisingly crispy onion rings. She described it as “juicy and delicious ... damn near melt-in-your-mouth.” My friend Dave had it in for the Seasonal Burger, a conceptual culinary project with shiitake mushrooms, kale chips, shallots and balsamic jam; Joel devoured the Fried Chicken Burger; and Annaliese dove into the inventive Popeye Burger with candied pork belly and creamed spinach. “This shouldn’t work,” she says between mouthfuls, “but somehow it does!” And then there was the Juicy Lucy. Sure, you have to be careful not to let it explode all over your shirt or plate, but it’s so delicious that one of my friends found herself “completely wrapped up in it.”
If none of those burgers tickle your fancy, however, there are always appetizers. The galbi fries were the choice for most of us: french fries covered in galbi-jjim meat, pickled peppers, onions, scallions and sour cream. One of my friends says she’s still fantasizing about them (“It was like the flavors were twerking on my tongue.”). The mac ‘n cheese balls divided opinion, though; Allison loved them, but David thought the batter’s flavor overpowered the mac ‘n cheese.
Otherwise, everything else was overwhelmingly approved as juicy and flavorful — my Hot Stuff Burger was superlative — with beautifully cooked patties and well-executed culinary ideas that helped Left Coast live up to its reputation. The only complaint was cost vs. portion size: A few of us were surprised our burgers weren’t bigger, and some thought them entirely overpriced (especially the drinks). However, all 12 of us said we would return again for another beefy evening out. As we left, full and happy, my friend Joel joked that he was a little closer to believing in the meaning of life. And we all agreed.
>>Left Coast Artisan Burgers
Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong 130-43
☎ (02) 6223-5338
Take line 6 to Itaewon Station, exit 4. When you reach street level, turn around and head down Bogwang street. Left Coast is about 100 meters down on the right-hand side, second floor.