If you’re in the mood for Korean food and you want a place where you’re given a bunch of free banchan (side dishes), with massive amounts of food… then go to K-town. You can go with a large group, eat until you’re stuffed and throw back a few bottles of soju amidst the loud chatter of the restaurant. You might even run into someone you know when you leave.
Personally, I’m looking for something different and lately, I’ve been on the hunt for a good Korean restaurant not in K-town (read my last blog post here). A friend and I made reservations to go to the newly opened OIJI last Thursday and… they did not disappoint. I almost didn’t go because it was the day the East Village explosion/fire happened but I’m glad I went despite the fact it was an inconvenient if not guilt-inducing trip to the neighborhood.
Generally speaking, I don’t like the idea of paying for something I can make at home; It just doesn’t make sense to me. The Korean food I find in K-town: seafood pancakes, stews, kimchi fried rice, etc is honestly something I can make myself. OIJI served Korean food as I know and love it, but in a refined and modern way. The tastes were authentic and traditional, with a twist, and minus the heaviness. It brought back so many childhood memories and flavors and even some inspiration.
I had seen photos of the beautiful beef tartare becoming coming here, so of course we ordered it. You might have had yukhoe (육회-steak tartare) at a Korean restaurant before. OIJI serves their beef tartare with ramp aioli, pickled mustard seeds and asian pear. You could tell someone took the time to put all the ingredients together beautifully. Thumbs up for nice plating. Needless to say, it tasted as good as it looked. Each bite was deliciously tender and tasty. A must order in my opinion if you like tartare like I do.
The dish on the top right.. is Chil-Jeol-Pan (칠절판) Chil literally meaning “seven.” OIJI lists this as “seven flavors” on their menu. The best way to describe it to someone who has never had it, is a DIY crepe. You wrap the variety of toppings inside the thin pancake with a little bit of the dipping sauce and voila- light and fresh bites great for sharing. Finger food at its best.
Now this one was my favorite. The Ssam Platter (쌈) with spicy pork and “Gang-deon-jang” (for 2). My friend and I were pleasantly surprised by the sticky rice. If it were regular brown or white rice, I don’t think it would’ve been the same. The meat was perfectly marinated- a nice blend of spice and note of sweetness, and the stew was nice and hearty. It reminded me of my grandma’s old school deonjang jjigae. I forget what the vegetable was (it might’ve been scallion), but it added the perfect tanginess. The dipping sauce was a lovely take on the ssamjang I grew up with. All the flavors came together deliciously when wrapped in the boston lettuce (it definitely wasn’t just romaine like in ktown) and perilla leaves. I even asked Carlos, our server, what they were called in Korean and he was able to tell me “Kkaennip” correctly :). It looks small, but the portion was quite generous. We finished this dish clean, it was so good and were quite full after this. Order it and thank me later.
Honey butter chips are the new craze in Korea- so you might have difficulty finding them in supermarkets. What do you do when if can’t find something you want? You make it yourself. OIJI made their own honey butter chips in house. Just thinking about how someone used a mandolin to slice all the potatoes to the perfect thickness make me appreciate it so much more. These honey and butter flavored salty potato chips were a sweet end to our meal.
I’m impressed by how they coursed our meal from beginning to end. Intentional or not, the meal flowed quite nicely. Each dish was made with incredible attention to detail and care. The tastes were familiar yet new. There were moments when I looked at my friend with O_O eyes because I was just caught off guard by the nuance of flavors each dish had. Even if I tried to make any of this at home, I wouldn’t be able to. Though East Village is a bit far from me, I’ll definitely be back again to try the rest of the menu.
East Village- 119 1st avenue, new york, ny 10003
Two restaurants down. Two more to go. Have you been to any?
Recommendations and Tips:
– This place is perfect for a date night or for dining with another friend or two. The nature of shareable plates makes it more intimate. You can have your own fish but come ready to share. If the amount of couples around us canoodling was any indication, the vibes are just so laidback (not unpretentious) and warm. I wouldn’t recommend going with a group larger than 4.
-I’d say ordering 3/4 dishes is good for 2 people, 4/5 dishes for 3 people. Savor every bite rather than scarfing it down as you might in ktown because of the rush.
-I went on a Thursday night, and would probably go again on a Thursday just because I prefer a restaurant not to be too crowded. It’s expected that restaurants are busier on Friday and Saturday.
-The Ssam platter and beef tartare is a must order in my opinion.
–Make a reservation before going as seating is limited. For reservations: 646-767-9050
Oh and I was so inspired by their Jang Jo Rim that I took that concept and combined it with my craving for char siu pork and boom: I made this over the weekend:
I’m convinced it was delicious mostly cause it was inspired.
Thank you OIJI for the best korean food I’ve had in awhile (that wasn’t at home), for bringing back childhood memories and for the inspiration. I’ll see you again soon.
Only good things ahead,
“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” ―M.F.K. Fisher
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