CHEGO: UNDERWHELMED BY THE KOGI TRUCK'S BRICKS & MORTAR GAFF
Ever felt like you were an unwelcome guest at someone else’s party?
That’s exactly how Sybil & I felt as we walked into the small space that is Chego, the brand new bricks & mortar expression from the people behind the Kogi BBQ Truck. It was already filling up with friends of the restaurant as we arrived. The bloggers of L.A. were also in full effect, wielding their hefty SLR cameras, which made me, not for the first time, hide my little point and shoot in shame.
Kogi has easily been the favourite of the gourmet taco trucks I have tried to date.
However, the unacknowledged truth is that most of the food served from most of these mobile eateries is, at best, average and only worthy of note because of the Twitter promoted game of “find the truck”. Kogi was better than that, and I often crave a few of their BBQ sliders when hunger strikes.
The trucks first came into being when would be restaurant owners turned to these L.A institutions as a way of circumnavigating the ludicrous rents charged for retail spaces in the city. Now, as with every successful fad, what was once a real underground movement has moved into the mainstream and already successful restaurants are launching their own trucks as a way to make extra revenue. In return, it seems that the more successful trucks will retort by parlaying the goodwill they have gained out on the road into a way of opening their own permanent places. As far as I am aware, Kogi is the first to do so.
Back at Chego, we placed our order at the counter, were given a number and took a seat. The owners seemed too preoccupied with their glad handing of friends to explain the system to us and it was only when asked for our drinks that our young server told us that we were supposed to collect them from behind the counter.
That the owners were paying special attention to people who had supported Kogi since its inception, even to the point of comping a few meals if over heard conversations are anything to go by, is absolutely fine. But, at the same time, they do have a duty to make sure that this is not done to the detriment of real live, paying punters who might know nothing more about the restaurant than it is new, looks interesting and is possibly worth spending some of their hard earned readies on.
That our confused server brought us our dessert before any other dishes and seemed perturbed when we suggested we might like it later, should tell you all you need to know about how they failed in this regard during our visit. All of this, of course, could be put down to opening night nerves, but Chego was charging us full whack, so I don’t think anyone would be unfair in suggesting we should have every right to deserve the full experience.
If the food was terrific, the rest might have been forgiveable. However, the truth is, once you take away the “excitement” of waiting outside Sony Studios for half an hour to buy a few sliders, what you are left with is middling, overpriced Korean food, served in paper bowls.
To be fair, the menu is very different to that of the Kogi truck and may take time to get right. But, there was little in what we tried to suggest that we would ever feel the need to return and find out. Starters of 3pm meatballs offered little but texture and spice and “Charred Asparagus” looked like it was auditioning as a cadaver on CSI, while tasting as if it had been bathing in lemon juice for a week. I overheard the next table tell the chef that they had “never had asparagus like that before” I wanted to lean over and add “that’s not necessarily a good thing”
Main course bowls of “One Chubby Pork Belly” and “Sour Cream Hen House” looked appetising enough, but were surprisingly one note, high on starch, low on protein and entirely underwhelming. The dessert, a take on rocky road, was also not worth writing home about, even when it was brought back to the table at the correct time.
We left as unnoticed as we had been when we arrived and, on the way home,I had to agree with Sybil's assessment. She is a big fan of the Kogi Truck and had been looking forward to the opening, but she declared that in the end it was just “all so many empty calories” and even though our bill was only $40 including a tip and those drinks, she would rather pay more for better.
There might be a certain dispensation granted to gourmet trucks, because of the excitement they originally brought to the dining scene in L.A. However, once they move to bricks & mortar, they must be judged by the standards of all other restaurants and, by those levels and based on our initial experience, Chego was not a success.
If, over time, they can transfer the obvious and tremendous goodwill of the fans of Kogi, to a loyal following for the new permanent spot, they might just make it. First of all, however, they need to realise that they must also attract, look after and feed punters who might not give a rats behind that they were ever on Twitter and who just want a good meal at a fair price, served efficiently (and possibly even in the right order).
It will be interesting to see if they can step up to the plate, er paper bowl.