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Oiji Proves Upscale Korean Fare is More Than Just a Passing Fad

jasKorean food has definitely been on an exciting upswing in New York for the last few years — from the totally modern tapas at Hooni Kim’s Danji to the fast-casual Kimchi Ramen at Esther Choi’s Mokbar.  And with the newest entrant, Oiji — which debuted their chic small plates in March, in a stylish, exposed brick and wood-adorned space in the East Village — it’s clear that interest in elevating the sweet and spicy cuisine is more than just a passing fad.

Chefs Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku, who worked at Bouley and Gramercy Tavern, oiji-jang-jo-rim-with-buttered-rice-and-soft-boiled-egg-580x435respectively, describe their style as “Refined Authentic Korean.”  Which means you’ll find highly traditional dishes on the menu, like Jan-Jo-Rim; a soy-braised beef and soft boiled egg banchan (side dish), the aggressive saltiness cut by perfect cubes of pickled daikon and a mound of liberally buttered rice, and spicy pork Ssam (crunchy lettuce wraps) served with gang-doenjang; a thick, soybean paste stew.  But all are enhanced by Kim and Ku’s sophisticated sensibilities and bag of French tricks; Chil-Jeol-Pan — which translates to seven flavors — is akin to bibimbap; except instead of rice, stacks of delicate rice flour crepes are artfully Oiji_0515_0031_LRsurrounded by colorful mounds of beef, mushrooms, eggs, carrots and cucumbers, for combining and rolling at will.  Cold Buckwheat Noodles, an ideal warm-weather snack, are tousled with preserved spring ramps, which are also whipped into an allium-scented aioli, and used to anoint feathery Beef Tartare.

But Oiji’s most notable addition to New York’s current Korean canon might just be the Honey Butter Chips; poised to overtake Cosme’s tumblr_nnzkjypPvO1tcrh3to1_1280Corn Husk Meringue as the year’s most talked about dessert.  Paper-thin curls of russet potato are deep-fried, tossed with French butter, brown sugar, and Greenmarket honey, and served warm, finished with just a hint of salt and smoky cayenne pepper.  Surprising it took a relatively upscale, East Village restaurant to bring this delightfully lowbrow Korean street snack to the masses.  Perhaps instead of hot dogs, soft-pretzels and paper packets of peanuts, vendors should consider selling them in every corner of the city.

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