Korean 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, respectively, 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 surrounded 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 Corn 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.