A couple of days ago, I had lunch at the hip and happening, modern Korean joint, Gyenari, in Culver City. It’s changed its menu a couple of times, trying to find its identity and it seems to have settled on Korean fusion offerings created by Debbie Lee (of “The Next Food Network Star” fame).
So, if you’re looking for “authentic” Korean fare, this is not the place for you. But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelieving palate a bit and venture into less treaded territory, give it a try.
It’s clearly aiming for a hip crowd, with its exposed brick walls, polished concrete floors and the maze of silver ventilation on the ceiling. And it does draw a fun crowd for its popular happy hour (the bar area up front is almost the size of its dining room).
I didn’t go for the po’ boys, sliders or K-town tortas. I had their lunch bibimbox ($9.95), a bento-style combination lunch with a small appetizer, a side salad, rice and your choice of meat. I opted for the flower chicken (a citrus based chicken) and the rice rumaki (ddeokbokgi ddeok wrapped in bacon).
The rice rumaki, other than being really tiny, was a bit dry and flavorless (I don’t know how they managed to do that with bacon, but…). The chicken was tender and OK, but didn’t blow my mind away.
I should’ve ordered what my companion had — the bibimbap (the mixed rice bowl – $10), which looked better. You have your choice of meats and he opted for the dweji bulgogi (spicy pork).
The lunch came with a small array of banchan (side dishes):
The side salad had a nice, light sesame based dressing, but the rest of the banchan didn’t blow my socks off, either.
Although traditional Korean meals are usually ended with some seasonal fruit, we couldn’t leave without trying the desserts.
I ordered the green tea beignets.
(Sorry, I was deep in conversation and forgot to take a picture before we ate them, so there’s only one left.)
The name was deceiving, because I expected deep fried, light doughnut-y goodness, but got a flavorless, dense cake ball of green tea. The presentation on the banana leaf and chocolate sauce was nice, however.
The strangest thing on the menu was the Asian pear bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and caramel cumin sauce. So, we ordered one of those, as well.
The bread pudding and the caramelized pear were lovely. The vanilla ice cream topped with a mint leaf, was also lovely. However, the flavor of the cumin overpowered everything else and just took over the entire dish. I love cumin as much as the next gal, but I don’t think it belongs in a dessert. Without the cumin, the bread pudding would have been the best thing on the menu. With the cumin, it was rendered entirely not enjoyable.
A lovely presentation, however. (again, sorry for the bite I took out of it!)
So, all in all, Gyenari (named after a flower) offered an interesting but uneventful meal. The service was spotty, the food was OK, and the decor was fun. We may have to wait for this flower to find it’s bloom. But if you’ve tried the Korean “mac and cheese,” let me know what you think.
9540 Washington Blvd. (right where it merges with Culver)
Culver City, CA 90232