The food truck gallery is without a doubt one of the most fiercely competitive dining environments that the restaurant business has to offer.
Don’t believe me? Imagine you’re seated at a table inside your favorite El Salvadoran restaurant, ready to order, when in struts a line cook from the Portuguese diner next door, carrying with him a steaming pot of kale soup. Think you might want to reconsider your order once the sweet smell of chourico, potato and crushed red pepper tickles your nostrils?
Welcome to life as a food truck chef—in which you are constantly entrenched in a bitter battle for the hearts, minds and glands both salivary and olfactory of the grub-loving and notoriously indecisive food snob crowd.
Whether it’s pungent odor of pickling cabbage or the rustic aroma of beef grilling over a hot spit, the sweet smells of Ahn Joo grasp wayward foodies by the nose and do not let go until they are staring at an empty paper plate upon which once rested a healthy serving of bulgogi.
As someone who on a weekly basis falls prey to Ahn Joo’s sensory seduction, I have to admit I’ve got no complaints. I’m a willing victim to their pub-style spin on Korean BBQ classics.
On Tuesday evening at Figueroa Produce's , I fashioned myself a meat and potatoes style meal from their a la carte menu, opting for the Seoultown Spuds and Mama’s Meatloaf. Traditionalists will point out that you’ll probably never see this starchy-con-carne combo listed on the menu of a traditional BBQ joint. To those who utter such pedantic screeds we inquire, “Does that mean we can finish your plate for you?”
Traditional Ahn-Joo’s fare certainly is not, but delicious and lovingly crafted it is. Chef Lee’s spuds are pure comfort food knockouts, which also deserve high marks for creativity thanks to the garlic seasoning and chili sauce drizzle. Korean influences inform everything served from the Ahn Joo truck, providing a fine balance of foreign and familiar perfect for those who want to try something new, but don’t necessarily want to spend their dining out budgets on a culinary education.
Take, for example, the Mama’s Meatloaf, which is served with a soy onion demi-glaze and Shitake mushrooms. Through this dish, Chef Lee demonstrates acute culinary instincts by serving up an unconventional spin on an American Classic in a way that makes you wonder this food has been your whole life.
Chef Lee is also capable of playing the classics as well; Ahn Joo offers a “Kimchi of the Day,” for example.
But it’s when Chef Lee is spinning her modern, pub-style Korean grub that she’s at her best. It also begs a question, if musical and literary traditions are allowed to evolve over time, why can’t the culinary canon expand as well? I’m sure there’s room for Chef Lee’s modern meatloaf and Seoultown spuds. If not? We’ll gladly make room for them on our dinner table.