Bring together a classically-trained Vancouver chef, a cultural heritage of Korean cooking, a dash of modernist cuisine, and the subtle influence of healthy eating, and you’ve got Yaletown’s daring new Taboo Kitchen.
Owner Jin Kim’s Taboo Kitchen takes him out on a limb from the family’s restaurant business tree, though Kim says his mother remains a driving force for this innovative concept as well, from the design to the recipes.
Drawing from the rich tradition of Korean cooking and eating as well as a love and knowledge of Western food and techniques, the Kim family and Executive Chef Joseph Lee have created an exciting menu that fuses dishes Vancouver diners will recognize with Korean ingredients and preparations. In particular, Taboo Kitchen aims to interject their shareable plates with aged and fermented Korean foods that happen to have traditional health benefits.
“It’s west coast ingredients with Korean flair,” adds Kim.
A simple beet salad gets the Taboo twist: The beets are pickled and flavoured with star anise and cinnamon, the goat cheese is enlivened with the sweet-sour of yuju, and wedges of compressed Korean persimmon add their tender, translucent sweetness.
Taboo takes other bold liberties, like turning a classic Korean dumpling (mandu) into a ravioli served in a broth, or making an Italian rice ball (arancini) with the gentle heat of Korean superfood kimchi, smoky bacon, and plenty of butter.
For those yearning to satisfy a craving for Korean staples, Taboo has a bibimbap or bibimbob (rice bowl) on their menu. They can provide the familiar taste of Korean BBQ without the smoke smell with the bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) that adorns their wildly inventive take a flatbread pizza, which turns the idea of “flat” on its head, since the pizza is made using puff pastry.
Guided by the culinary truism that diners first eat with their eyes, there is an imaginative spectacle served up with some dishes. Taboo Kitchen’s Lobster Gnocchi Dduk marries the sticky lobs of Korean rice cakes with plump gnocchi, chunks of fresh lobster, brussel sprout leaves, and perfect 62.8-degrees sous vide egg in a bath of fiery hot sauce made of Korean aged chili.
However, before you can tuck into the burn of the sauce, your table is first treated to the sight of the dish arriving amidst its very own ring of fire, thanks to an edible (but sadly not palatable) garnish of black sesame and tempura doused in Bacardi 151 and set ablaze. Definitely a rule breaker.
Once the flames are out, you’ll want to break that beautiful egg, and let its viscosity tame the sweet, sweat-inducing heat of the spicy sauce. Make sure you get a spoon for this dish, so you can scoop up that pungent burn with the strands of caramelized scallion, chewy rice cake, gnocchi, and lobster.
While Taboo’s savoury dishes, and their program of soju and makgeolli cocktails, follow the Korean tendency of veering towards the sweet, dessert doesn’t take the bait. Still aching tastebuds sent scampering from the heat of your prior courses will find refuge in their soy-based unbaked cheesecake, which comes with a base of cherries fermented over three months, and a smooth, creamy core of housemade creme fraiche and a soymilk topping.
“Any kind of fusion could be very misleading if you don’t execute properly,” says Kim of the perils of a common culinary genre. Kim, Lee, and the Taboo team, though, are passionate about their measured approach to bringing the flavours of Korea to Vancouver’s diners.
Taboo Kitchen certainly isn’t afraid of taking some bold steps and breaking a few rules. “We do everything known to be taboo in the culinary world,” says Kim.
Address: 1233 Hamilton Street, Yaletown
Phone: (604) 559-1116
Website: Taboo Kitchen on Facebook
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to Midnight.
All photos by Lindsay William-Ross for Vancity Buzz