My experience of Korean food has mostly been limited to barbecue, bibimbap and kimchee. My tastes have significantly broadened, however, since my recent visit to Oiji, a new 32-seat gem in New York’s East Village. Housed in what was once Dok Suni – an affordable Korean spot I frequented in my early 20s – Oiji has been transformed into a chic eatery, all exposed brick, reclaimed wood and hand-hewn ceramics that display the creative cuisine to artful effect.
The refined Korean fare comes from chef-patrons Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku, who trained at Bouley and Gramercy Tavern respectively. Each of their small dishes, all designed for sharing, combines light flavours and textures that are as tasty as they are aesthetically pleasing.
First up was Oiji’s seasonal Ginger’s Secret cocktail – a piquant blend of bourbon, dry vermouth and sour ginger syrup. Lovers of traditional Korean drinks – Chung Ha (rice wine), Seoljungmae (plum wine) and ultra-premium rice spirit Hwayo – are in for a treat.
Drinks in hand, our feast began with a silky tofu with scallion soy vinaigrette, followed by “Chil-jeol-pan” Seven Flavors (first image) – a DIY dish comprised of rice-flour pancakes that we stuffed with six ingredients (sliced egg whites and yolks, marinated beef, shiitake mushrooms, julienned carrots and cucumbers) and then drizzled with a delicate mustard sauce.
Other highlights included cold buckwheat noodles with preserved spring ramps (wild leeks) and an exquisitely presented beef tartare (second image) accented with sesame, Asian pear, cantaloupe, pickled mustard seeds, egg and garlic. It was the sides, however, that I’d happily make a meal out of next time: lotus leaf-wrapped sticky rice and out-of-this-world honey butter chips were my two favourite dishes of the night, with the latter being suitable as either an appetiser or a dessert, as they make a sweet, salty, sticky ending. These miracle crisps are thinly sliced russet potatoes that are deep-fried then wok-seared in French butter, brown sugar, honey, salt and cayenne pepper. What’s not to love?