Fusion cuisine appears to be alive and well in Seoul, where Korean and Italian hybrid dishes, in particular, attract hungry hordes seeking something spicy with their pasta plates.
But this K-talian category has had mixed results on this side of the Pacific with Erbe Matte, a high-end Korean-Italian restaurant, unceremoniously bidding arrivederci to Beverly Hills back in 2012 after only nine months in business. In Koreatown, a casual Korean-Italian concept named Hello has been rolling along for over a year, serving up flavor unions like kimchi/bacon cream pastas.
Most recently, out in the fringes of L.A. County in Rowland Heights, Korean and Italian flavors have joined forces at Tomato R+D, where chef Jung Soo Yang arrived only three months ago from Korea.
The menu showcases primarily Korean and Italian styles, but you’ll also find Japanese takoyaki and okonomiyaki. Further, I was told by the waitress that there is always some R&D going on at Tomato R+D with an ever-changing menu.
Tomato R+D’s Cold Pasta, refreshing as it was, resembled a college dorm-room version of an antipasti. Chunky pineapple, tomato slices, and lettuce scattered atop cold spaghetti were powdered with parmesan cheese and served in a glass casserole dish. This plate could’ve been considered more retro than fusion.
However, what seemed like a bonafide blending of Korean and Italian tastes came in the form of Bacon and Kimchi Pilaf. More risotto than pilaf due to the slight creaminess of the rice, this creative item would feel right at home on, say, Chego’s menu board. It’s a dense mound of fried rice thick with gochujang, bell peppers, mushrooms, and pieces of bacon. The squiggly rows of Kewpie mayo add a Japanese comfort-food flourish.
The Bacon and Kimchi Pilaf was served in a good old casserole dish, which has me wondering if all of this fusion really is just one big melting pot, making everything at Tomato R+D appropriately and distinctly American.