Another review I’ve been meaning to write for awhile and suddenly news of its success is everywhere. Huzzah. Oiji deserves to be lauded.
They say refined and authentic, I say stylish and classically innovative. All describe it perfectly. In any case, not your Oh-ma’s late night barbecue. The food here is thoughtful, graceful, ethereal – words I’m pretty sure don’t come up often in the parlance for Koreatown. And I love Koreatown. But this is like a hip hop waltz verses drunken karaoke.
Adding to the new, urbane East Village dining scene, these two Korean born co-chefs/co-owners are Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku bringing their distinctive pedigrees including Bouley and Gramercy Tavern. They’ve created an eclectic menu of 17 items that lovingly reflect their rustic chic ambience.
If I had to choose one word to describe the essence here, I think I’d say fragrant and then I’d add…pine. It’s in the food, in the air and in my exquisitely refreshing cocktail.
The Namesan Pine, white rum, pine extract, honey, lemon, egg white and lavender. You actually taste the pine and it’s surprisingly not intense, just misty, green woodsy and fabulous. I had two.
We ordered an array of plates, little works of art gone rustic, not food fancy. They are definitely plates meant to be shared though there are more than a few I would have gladly had for myself.
Cold Buckwheat Noodles with Preserved Ramps. It’s refreshing. Cold. Toothsome noodles with bite, pickled spring onions, garlic, all bound together with the creaminess of the oozing egg.
Jang-jo-rim with Buttered Rice and Soft Boiled Egg. We ordered it without beef because there was a non meat eater at the table, so they gave us extra mushrooms, luscious lightly marinated thick mushrooms and cubed daikon to provide the crunch and acidity that perfectly complimented the buttery rice. My Korean dining companion protested this dish on the menu, butter not being traditional in Korean food. But she let go of custom after one bite.
Homemade Tofu with Scallion Soy Vinaigrette was expected, tasted exactly as you might imagine. Did like that sauce and luckily it found it’s way into the crevices of the crumbly tofu, elevating the dish. It’s just that a similar tofu dish at Danji in midtown is extraordinary with melt in your mouth tofu and this doesn’t measure up for me. Had I never eaten the Danji tofu, I would be much more generous.
But that was the tiniest glitch. Here to restore my faith in dining and delectable dishes everywhere was this…
Pine Leaves Smoked Mackerel with Citrus Soy – which you glide over the fish with a pine needle brush. This could not be better. Crispy skin that crackles around your tongue and reveals flakey, meltingly good meat. Simple but elegant plating, a real life pine accoutrement and just absolutely divine taste.
A little break for Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice. We almost ordered more to stuff in our purses for later. Seriously. Date slivers, shredded burdock and teased with a soy-honey sauce. Epitome of Korean comfort.
Closing in on the finale and knowing there were more dishes to return for, we went splashy. By subtle Korean goes modern standards anyway.
Chil-jeal-pan, Dish of Seven Flavors.
It’s hard to tell exactly how delicate each of these rice flour crepes are until you gently peel them back. They’re paper thin and you can wrap a chosen flavor or go wild and gloriously combine it all – the mushrooms, carrots, egg whites, yolk, cucumbers, beef and pickles with the ravishing mustard sauce. Fluffy, delightfully soft tacos. A rapturous puff in your mouth.
And no meal here would be complete without the insane Honey Butter Chips. Apparently all the rage in Korea and all over instagram. They’re sweet, softly crispy, smothered in butter (the new age of Korean cooking) honey and a soupçon of cayenne pepper. They’re meant to be eaten at the end of the meal as they are the only semi dessert offering. I couldn’t wait to try them so they appeared early in our dinner and provided fun bites between courses. So sweet, I swore after each chip that it would be the last. But this is the truest version of – bet you can’t eat just one. Made all the better with sips of pine of course. A Korean party romping through a mystical forest.
119 First Avenue between 7th/ St Marks
Tues Wed Thurs 6pm-11pm, Fri Sat 6pm-midnight, Sun 6pm-10pm