If there is a dish that embodies what it’s like to cook and eat in L.A. in 2019, it might be the beef tongue tostada at Dandi, a sporadic pop-up helmed by chefs and business partners Jihee Kim and Joshua Pressman.
The presentation is minimal. Layers of Thai shallot kimchi and torched slices of kalbi jjim-seasoned beef tongue are concealed beneath a soft, white blanket of provolone, melted just to the edge of a corn tostada. A smattering of periwinkle chive blossoms are scattered over the surface until the finished dish has the look of a Pasadena sidewalk during jacaranda season. You’ll want to take a photo.
Picking it up with your hands and crunching its delicate layers is to taste both Pressman’s nostalgia for the tostadas he grew up eating at El Mar Azul in Highland Park and Kim’s mastery of balancing sweetness, spice, and funk. The flavor is part Mexican, part Korean, part Californian, but distinctly Angeleno, and it’s one of eight dishes on the tasting menu at Dandi (pronounced DAWN-dee), slang for “well-made” in Korean.
Running an itinerant restaurant with an erratic schedule has led to some unique challenges for Kim and Pressman, like the time they had to lug their turkey fryer to a friend’s kitchen in order to serve their signature KFQ—a whole fried quail coated in a crisp batter and painted in the sweet heat of fluorescent-red Korean gochugaru glaze. But in L.A., where rents have become formidable, “you just do whatever you can to make it work,” Pressman says with a shrug. Even if it means washing a 20-quart stockpot in a bathtub when it doesn’t fit in your apartment’s sink.
In L.A., where rents have become formidable, “you just do whatever you can to make it work,” Pressman says with a shrug.
Both Kim, 32, and Pressman, 34, were born into the restaurant industry: Kim in Busan, South Korea, where diners crowded around wood-and-laminate tables at her family’s restaurant to eat bowls of doenjang jjigae, a rich stew made from dried sand-colored bricks of fermented soybeans, which her family still painstakingly prepares each year; and Pressman, here in L.A., where his parents met cooking at the original Spago on Sunset Boulevard. As a baby, he spent his earliest moments at their Pasadena restaurant, Parkway Grill, watching from a bassinet as his mom, the late acclaimed pastry chef Amy Pressman, rolled out sheets of dough.
Kim and Pressman met in 2015 while working at Santa Monica’s Rustic Canyon, where Pressman became enamored with the japchae noodles and kimchi stew Kim would serve. Their careers intersected again during gigs at the restaurant-brewery 6th & La Brea, and when Kim gave notice to go visit her family in Korea, Pressman asked if he could come, too. A month later they were eating their way through the street stalls and Michelin-starred restaurants of Seoul before exploring the countryside. They eventually landed in Busan, where the two of them stuffed their suitcases with a couple of cases of gotgam, traditional whole dried persimmons, made by Kim’s grandmother, before coming home to launch Dandi.
The next step will be to find the concept a permanent home where Kim and Pressman can serve their modern Korean tasting menu seven nights a week. But for now, the duo is taking it one service at a time. On the last night of their inaugural pop-up in April—which sold out its 80 ticketed seats—the chefs prepared a take-home gift: a sweet candy terrine layered with honey-kissed mascarpone, pecans from the Hollywood farmers’ market, and strips of grandma’s gotgam. A taste of here, a taste of there—it sums up exactly what Dandi aspires to be.
Their next pop-ups take place at Hotel Normandie (605 Normandie Ave., Koreatown) on July 26 & 27 and August 2 & 3; dandi-la.com.