Yangban | Ask and You Shall Recieve

The cultural conversation continues at Los Angeles Arts District’s newly renovated Korean-Americana restaurant.

Written by

Isaac Dektor

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Renowned chefs Katianna and John Hong have unveiled the revamped Yangban, a fusion of Korean and Americana cuisine, located in the heart of Los Angeles' Arts District. The month-long renovation by Outside Interior Design has transformed the space into a refined full-service dining room, while also adding an outdoor dining area under the stars, which enhances the overall culinary experience. The refurbished Yangban boasts new furniture, chic lighting, and sleek design, enriching the dining event.

The updated menu offers excellence in both familiar and innovative dishes, such as Golden Prawn Toast, Fried Wagyu Stuffed Pepper, and Matang Goguma Custard Pie for dessert. An updated bar program designed through the mind of Dave Purcell, complements the dining experience.

FLAUNT magazine spoke with Chefs Katianna and John Hong about Yangban's evolution, both physically and conceptually, and the personal touch evident in their culinary creations.

What prompted this new chapter for the restaurant and how has Yangban’s concept evolved through your recent renovations?

Kat & John Hong: Yangban was always intended to be an ongoing conversation, influenced by the needs and wants of our community. We spent years in Michelin-starred restaurants around the country, so this iteration feels like an evolution, but also a return to our roots and who we are as chefs. When we launched Yangban Society, it was meant to strip everything back and cook the food representative of our collective upbringing both in flavor and presentation. The restaurant now has a full-service dining room with more sophisticated food and beverage programs, but remains at its core a modern Korean-American dining concept that we’ve been dubbing ‘Korean Americana’. With this phase of Yangban, we want to offer guests deeply personal dishes that convey our distinct perspective and upbringings as Korean Americans but embellished to highlight our culinary approach and cement the next chapter for both the us and Los Angeles’ rich Korean dining scene.

How do you feel that you’ve grown alongside Yangban as both chefs and restaurateurs?

KH & JH: The repositioning of the concept enhances the vibe and energy diners have come to expect from Yangban, which allows us to match that with the food we cook. Our flavors have matured, and we’re able to rethink the methodology that Yangban is experienced. The ‘evolution’ into this next iteration of Yangban was an intentional decision we always knew we’d grow into. 

How do you feel that your upbringing has shaped the dishes you serve? 

KH & JH: The menu at Yangban is very personal, and reflective of so many important aspects of both of our lives: growing up as Korean Americans, the food our families cooked, dishes and techniques learned from our tenures at Michelin starred restaurants, and what we think people in LA want to eat today.

Tell us about how the idea of featuring artists in the space came to be? 

KH & JH: We wanted the transformation of the concept to involve all of our inspiration points beyond food, and art is a major source of inspiration for us both. We chose artwork from mostly Korean artists including Tomas Osinksi and Brian Zamora, Sammy Seung-Min Lee, Dave Young Kim, and Jisun Kim to tether the connective fabric which roots the dialogue of the restaurant. You can also always count on a curated playlist of our favorite artists, heavy on 80’s and 90’s R&B and hip hop, on at full blast.

How do you think about the evolution of Korean-American cuisine in Los Angeles?  

K: This is a very interesting time when the younger and newer generation of Korean Americans are now chefs and restaurant owners. Inherently, we are witnessing Korean American cuisine naturally evolve and change. We live and breathe Koreatown. We bought a home there because we truly love the abundance of old school traditional mom and pop places. They are what make LA’s Koreatown so unique and special. We love how living in Koreatown often makes you feel like you are authentically experiencing Korean life, food and culture. But, we also acknowledge that many of those restaurant institutions were birthed from a place of need and struggle. Those places tell an immigrant story of coming to this country and working hard, oftentimes doing something you have no interest in, to provide a better future for your children.These little gems in Koreatown were peeks into another culture, a traditional Korean culture. Now, the newer generation, including ourselves, many of which are American born, have a different story to tell and a very different Asian-American experience to share. Our cooking is less derived from a place of struggle and more inspired in a creative and explorative environment. It’s important to recognize that we are now reaping the benefits of the last generations' sacrifice and hard work which made Korean American food relevant. 

It’s a privilege to evolve the story and hopefully do so in a way that honors tradition while also incorporating modern nuances.

What drew you to the Arts District? What excites you about the city and LA’s current restaurant scene?

K: In some ways, it reminded us both of home. I am from upstate NY but also spent quite a bit of time throughout my childhood in NYC. I have fond memories of dining out in NY- it’s moody, there’s brick, alley ways that beckon you to wander down - just a sense of grit that makes it feel lived in. The area and building where Yangban is located felt beautiful while also having some of that quality of patina and tenacity. John grew up in a suburb of Chicago but attended culinary school and lived right in the city of Chicago for some time. He also creatively leans towards an elegant urban feel. The Arts District felt like a perfect place to create something unique and distinctly us. I think that’s what also most excites us about Los Angeles and the city’s culinary scene - the sheer amount of diversity and unique stories that are told throughout our community, it feels like a conversation that’s happening here in unparalleled and magnificent ways.

How did you design this new menu and beverage program? What did you want to carry over from the initial inception of Yangban and what did you want to start anew with? 

KH & JH: While the updated menu maintains several favorites like our matzo ball mandu, chicken wings, and banchan, most of the dishes are reimagined or new preparations, connecting the restaurant’s past-and-present in a playful way. There’s a continued repertoire of the Korean-Americana flavors and Jewish inflection points featured across the entirety of the menu. The progression is a direct reflection of the continued conversation between us and our guests. The beverage program has undergone an overhaul to reflect the updated food menu, which includes cocktails – some classic, some unexpected and the wine and beer programs have also been overhauled. The sum of its parts is meant to usher in Yangban as a cohesive, vibrant and authentic experience we’re excited to share.

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Yangban, Flaunt Magazine, Isaac Dektor