I have discovered the best tuna sandwich in Los Angeles. The tuna kimbap sandwich at Open Market in Koreatown offers a unique mix of interesting flavors.
“In Korea tuna is a non-traditional dish,” chef Andrew Marco said. “Since Americans love tuna salad, we combine nostalgic tuna with Korean kimbap ingredients to create a wonderful blend of two cultures.”
I met Marco and owner Brian Lee last week over lunch and they served the renowned tuna sandwich. It is prepared with smooth mayonnaise and a nice crunch from chopped pickled radish and burdock root. Finely chopped gim or seaweed gives the tuna an umami essence, and perilla provides a hint of licorice or anise flavor. It is topped with bright orange slices of American cheese and served on thick slices of Clark Street pain de mie white bread.
Open Market is more than just a sandwich shop. It’s also a coffee shop making Kyoto style cold brew and Mocha Joes. A small market displays local products from local purveyors and beautiful art on the walls. Colorful and creative canned cocktails, sojus, sakes and beers from local and around the world are offered, plus a wonderful selection of wines. Hundreds of natural, organic and sustainable wines from low production winemakers who take great pride in wine are available.
Lee is a wine enthusiast, and with the help from Sam Sachs, created the Koreatown Wine Club. “Koreatown is not known for serving wines, it’s more sake, soju and beer. I wanted to create a club where like-minded people who appreciate wine can connect,” Lee said.
He educates and connects the community of members through wine tasting events. Members receive monthly wine drops on the 15th of each month. Tasting notes and educational palate worksheets are provided to enrich the experience. Members also receive 10% off in-store and online purchases.
Lee and Marco told me the story of how Open Market came to be over lunch. Both Asian Americans, they grew up in Los Angeles, and their upbringing inspired each item on the menu. Marco worked with friend Ralph Hsiao who started cooking at home as a hobby while at U.C. Irvine. Fun potlucks with friends later turned into kamayans or Filipino communal feasts. They started the pop-up and cloud kitchen Rice Guys. They had a great run, even during the pandemic, but when Rice Guys closed, Lee approached the two chefs about a new breakfast and sandwich concept and Open Market was born.
“Asian American children of immigrants cook what they know,” Marco said. “I guess it was called fusion cuisine 15 years ago. We aim to interface and cross pollinate cultures in Los Angeles at Open Market. Sandwiches are an American format, so we put our own voice and touch between two slices of bread.”
After devouring the tuna kimbap sandwich, I bit into a crusty baguette sandwich known as the Olympic. Flavorful lemongrass chicken thigh is topped with crisp pickled radish, smooth serrano aioli, fresh mint, cilantro, basil and nam jim jaew, a Thai chili dipping sauce. Crispy chicken skin balances the earthy flavors.
“Thai restaurants are known for their fish sauce lemongrass chicken dishes,” Marco said. “Fish sauce with chicken works so harmoniously. You could eat all of these dishes on rice, but we prepare it a new way serving them between two slices of bread.”
When I noticed a guest dipping a melted cheese sandwich into a bowl of sauce, I inquired what he was enjoying. “Oh, that is our Normandie, it’s inspired by Los Angeles’ Philippe the original beef dip sandwich,” Lee said.
It’s a baguette filled with Creekstone Farms brisket and melted provolone cheese, plus ginger pickled radish on a spread of mustard and mayonnaise. It’s served with a cup of special dipping au jus.
Chef Marco’s special of the day is a creatively reproduced McDonald’s filet-o-fish sandwich, with crispy halibut, house made tartar sauce, cheddar cheese slices and pickles. His specials of the day typically become so popular that they are added onto the menu board, such as the Hainan Chicken Salad Sando. It dazzles tastebuds with the ginger-garlic-scallion sauce added to smooth Jidori chicken salad. There are sliced cucumbers spheres between two slices of pain de mie white bread. A cup of chicken broth is served with this popular sandwich.
For those seeking vegan or vegetarian fare, the vegan Al pastor sandwich is a spread of green cilantro salsa and matcha aioli with a melding of oyster mushrooms and pickled pineapple. There is a tomato slice, avocado, and romaine lettuce on a baguette sliced in half.
Miso brown butter chocolate chip cookies are featured in the cookie display case. Chef Marco makes his own miso using a Japanese soybean technique with koji and uses the ends of the baguettes that he blends into breadcrumbs. He ferments it all to make a delicious miso that he mixes into his chocolate chip cookies mix. The soft cookie offered a delicious salty, sweet and umami profile.
Another cookie, called a Donatello sugar cookie, is named after the turtle in Teenage Mutant Ninja, with purple and green coloring. It tastes as good as it looks.
The team put a lot of care and thoughtfulness into opening Open Market. They wanted a name that indicated a fast, casual restaurant to promote open arms in the community. It’s an art gallery, sandwich and wine shop that offers a community for people to meet others in a safe, comfortable and inviting space.
With the Lunar New Year approaching, Open Market is providing a Chinese New Year Dinner Drop on Thursday, Jan. 26. The one-night dinner special is available for pick up and limited dine-in seating. The menu features Peking Duck from dry aged duck, roasted duck breast and five spice cured duck leg confit. It will be served with duck fat fried rice, duck jus’ hoisin, fermented salsa, scallion salad, smashed cucumbers and some of the best flour tortillas from L.A.’s Mejorado. Dessert is tres leches cake made with forbidden rice horchata and five spice cake. The price for a half duck dinner is $90 and whole duck dinner is $130. Pre-orders are available at openmarket.la.
Validated parking is available off Catalina in the 3333 Wilshire Blvd. building. Open Monday through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Breakfast, coffee and tea is available all day. The kitchen serves sandwiches from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. $-$$ 3339 Wilshire Blvd., (213)232-3851.
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