R: A truly unique dining experience awaits Los Angelenos who venture into Koreatown and cross the threshhold of Sallim Korean Veggie Life Buffet. Newly opened this year, sparkling, and spacious, this attractive restaurant offers patrons more than 40 different buffet dishes that explore Korean cuisine with a totally vegetarian perspective. The restaurant occupies the corner of Virgil and Wilshire where convenient street parking is available after six in the evening.
Z: What we experienced was an infusion of exotic flavors and textures that were virgin and untrodden to our well-seasoned taste buds. The delectables ranged in flavor from spicy, mild, and sweet to tangy, salty, and pungent with textures that ran the gamut from soft and airy to chewy and crunchy. While most of the creations are vegan, a few items contain dairy, and some of the faux meats may contain whey.
R: The impressive buffet is shaped like a double-sided horseshoe with additional items along the wall. Also striking is the substantial size of the restaurant that appears large enough to occupy one-fourth of a football field. Simple, yet attractive ambience features a large recessed ceiling in the center of the room, light-colored walls and stone flooring, and bright track lighting along the length of the buffet. The ceiling is well endowed with a host of recessed spotlights that offer a soft pleasing light.
Z: Far from formal, this family restaurant can seat as many as 168 diners at light, wood-grain formica tables with red vinyl chairs framed in black wood. Our two servers, Harry and Stella, operated with limited English and lots of smiles. We were encouraged to return to the buffet often and help ourselves to clean dishes each time.
R: We began our tasting exploration at the soup station where we sampled all four of the offerings that included a delicately seasoned Cashewnut Soup with Seaweed, thick Black Bean Porridge, daintily sweetened Lotus Flower Seed Porridge, and thick and lightly sweet Pumpkin Porridge.
Z: Then, we began our quest to taste all the items on the buffet. Once inside the horseshoe portion of the buffet we found the food ubiquitous--every direction we turned, there were more appealing dishes. After filling our plates with tiny tidbits, we were not even halfway through the selections. We concluded it was impossible to fulfill our mission. The collection of dishes was so numerous, we realized we would have to return several times to experience the full range of choices.
R: But that would not be so difficult a task to undertake. Since most Korean cuisine is typically centered on animal foods, we discovered we were novices in this candy land of unfamiliar vegetarian comestibles. We tasted Sushi similar to California Roll, a deep-fried Tofu Sandwich filled with seasoned soy meat, Gobo slices reminiscent of lightly cooked sweet potato, Bracken cooked with green onion, several varieties of Kim Chee, gelatinous Acorn Jelly with flavorful seasonings, Potato Wrapped in Seaweed, and Potato Pancake.
Z: A few of the buffet items resembled Chinese dishes with vegetables and faux meat like the Fried Rice with Soymeat and Veggies, or several varieties of Spicy Soymeats. Beckoning us were Sweet and Sour Shiitake Mushrooms, Noodles Wrapped in Seaweed, Kim Chee Pancakes, Daikon Radish wrapped around red and green pepper and bean sprouts, and a number of innovative salad dishes.
R: For the sweet finish that we couldn't even begin to consider, there was a Korean style juice made from rice, melon and orange wedges, and a sweetened Honeydew Slush made with rice.
Z: For diners who prefer to start their day Korean style, the restaurant offers breakfast from 7:30 to 9 in the morning. Kyung, the owner's daughter, was proud to tell us that by lunchtime the bustling crowd really fills the huge dining room. We mentioned that as far as we know, this was the only Korean vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles and wondered how it all began.
R: The inspiration behind the venture was a focus on health and natural foods. Kyung's father owned a restaurant in Korea for 30 years. Five years ago, her father became ill with cancer and decided to go vegetarian to improve his health and to promote recovery. His experiments began with faux meat items and vegetable combinations and culminated with the opening of Sallim.
Reviewed June 2005