Friday, January 26, 2024

Oiji Mi (New York, NY)

Oiji Mi Restaurant
17 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011
Fri 01/26/2024, 08:50p-11:55p

Oiji Mi Exterior

If you've read my last couple of posts, you'll know that I was in DC for work recently. Now given that I was going to be there for two weeks, I decided to take a side trip up to NYC over the weekend. I've been on a bit of a modern Korean kick as of late, so after I landed at LGA, I immediately made my way to the Flatiron District for dinner at Oiji Mi (오이지 미). Named after oiji (a type of pickled cucumber) and mi ("beauty" or "taste"), the place comes to us from Chef Brian Kim (a.k.a. Sehong Kim) and Max Soh, and opened in May 2022 as a follow-up to their original spot, Oiji.

About the Chef: Kim Se-hong (김세홍) was born in Los Angeles, but grew up in Seoul, and also traveled around quite often as a youngster, which helped spark his interest in food. He attended Korea University, where he studied business administration, and after graduating, found his way into the global marketing arm of LG. During this period, he actually partnered up with friends to open up a restaurant, but the place folded after the chef decamped. Kim thus felt the urge to learn how to cook himself, and therefore began training in traditional Korean cuisine in Seoul before relocating to the US circa 2008 in order to study at the Culinary Institute of America.

After his time at culinary school, he cooked for about a year at Bouley, but left in 2012 to open his own place. He teamed up with his CIA roommate, Gramercy Tavern vet, and fellow Seoulite Ku Tae-kyung (구태경), and began looking for a location. It took two years to find a suitable spot, and another year to build it out, but Oiji finally made its debut in February 2015. Just five months after, Maximilian Soh (another CIA alum and former cook at Bouley and Gordan Ramsay at The London, who'd since transitioned to the FOH) was brought on board as GM/Beverage Director.

The East Village eatery quickly made a name for itself for its "localized" Korean fare, and continued to chug along for several years. However, Kim had long envisioned having a more "proper" restaurant, and soon started conceptualizing his sophomore effort, the more upscale Oiji Mi. The original restaurant therefore closed in April 2022 (Taekyung departed the business about a year before the shutter, and is apparently back in Korea helping run his family's restaurants), while Oiji Mi bowed on May 10th that year. In October 2022, the place landed a Michelin star (which it has retained), and last November, it was named one of Esquire's "Best New Restaurants in America."

Oiji Mi Dining Room
Oiji Mi occupies the former home of Zio Ristorante, and before that, nightclubs The Imperial, Spy, and Discotheque. The space was redone by AvroKO, and features a design ostensibly inspired by both Art Deco and hanok. Capacity is around 70 in the main dining room...

Oiji Mi Bar/Lounge
...While the bar/lounge holds another 30.

Oiji Mi Bar View
And here's my view from the bar.

Oiji Mi Tasting Menu Oiji Mi À La Carte Menu Oiji Mi Dessert Menu / Coffee & Tea List
As for Oiji Mi's menu, it's a five-course prix fixe at $145 a head in the main dining room, with optional wine/non-alcoholic pairings at $115/$65. However, given that I was seated in the bar/lounge, I was able to order à la carte. Click for larger versions.

Oiji Mi Cocktail List Oiji Mi Non-Alcoholic Cocktail & Beer List Oiji Mi Wines by the Glass List Oiji Mi Sul by the Glass List Oiji Mi Sul by the Bottle List
To drink, you get an array of pretty interesting cocktails (that aren't necessarily Korean-inspired), beers, sul, as well as a surprisingly impressive wine list (see here), all managed by Beverage Director Chris Clark (ex-Aquavit). Click for larger versions.

WIZARD OF BŌM [$20.00] | gin, edamame, burdock, barley
I was able to try five cocktails tonight, and this first one was definitely on the fun, fluffy side, with a pickle-tang up front leading to the booziness of the gin before finishing up with a coconut-y sweetness.

BEEF TARTARE · 육회 [$24.00] | golden kaluga caviar, oiji cucumber, brioche
A reimagined yukhoe did a great job playing the unmistakable tartness of pickled cucumber against some delectably-seasoned meat, with the caviar imparting a hint of salinity. The bread, meanwhile, worked to soften all the flavors at play. A promising first couple bites.

Finger Napkin
A finger napkin was provided along with the tartar above, which was a nice touch.

BBQ CALAMARI · 오징어 불고기
BBQ CALAMARI · 오징어 불고기 [$22.00] | tomatillo, avocado, soy lime
The squid was just what I was looking for texturally, and successfully conveyed the sweet, slightly smoky, familiar flavors of bulgogi, countered by the brightness of both cucumber and avocado.

LEATHER WEATHER [$20.00] | rum, pistachio, vin juane, frangelico
My second cocktail was recommended to me by a fellow patron at the bar, and he knew what he was talking about. I got a marked fruitiness at the fore here, overlaid on top of the almost funky nature of the vin juane, with wisps of pistachio overarching everything.

KING CRAB GYERAN-JJIM · 킹크랩 계란찜 [$29.00] | pumpkin, caviar, perilla chimichurri
This slick, jiggly steamed egg custard was quite unlike any other gyeranjjim I've had before. The sweetness of the pumpkin was quite apparent, yet not overwhelming thanks to the zippiness from the perilla, but my favorite thing here was the nutty crunch of the pepitas, which was unexpected but not unwelcomed.

STRIPED JACK HWE · 회 [$24.00] | spaghetti squash, seaweed scallion vinaigrette
Cuts of striped jack showed off a refined brine that matched up beautifully with the dish's ginger-y pungency and those bright, crunchy shreds of squash, while that zesty vinaigrette help bring it all together. A highlight for me.

CONIFEROUS FLIP [$19.00] | soju, montenegro, allspice dram, egg white
The requisite soju-based cocktail demonstrated a bracing, astringent quality up front, leading to sweet spices and pine, the egg moderating everything.

OCTOPUS · 갈낙탕 [$28.00] | somyeon, wagyu galbi broth, hearts of palm
The gallaktang was another winner. The octo itself was as tender as I wanted, and I was a fan of the slippery, just-chewy-enough consistency of the noodles, too. However, the key here was that broth, which I found wonderfully rich, heady, and savory. The veggies were much appreciated as well, as they tended to lighten the mood.

OIJI BOWL · 성게알 덮밥
OIJI BOWL · 성게알 덮밥 [$48.00] | sea urchin, sweet shrimp, oiji, seaweed rice
This deopbap is a signature dish, and I can certainly understand why. The seaweed-boosted rice showcased a wonderfully smoky, savory character, with the right amount of "stick," and was enjoyable just by itself. The bap made sense with the sweet salinity of the baby shrimp, but the star here was indeed that Hokkaido-sourced seongge, with its cool, mineral-y sweetness that melded beautifully with the rice. At the same time, the tangy, crunchy pickles worked as a great accent piece.

WHEYGG NOG [$23.00] | famille migneron whey eau de vie, 1998 henriques & henriques single harvest madeira, whole egg, cream
My penultimate cocktail was a favorite, and likely the best eggnog I've had thanks to its bevy of wonderfully sweet, winter-y spices, set against the lushness of the egg 'n' cream and the drink's distinctly boozy underpinning.

DRY-AGED DUCK · 숙성오리 [$45.00] | potato dumpling, spicy chorizo, kumquat
Sugseong-ori had immense depth and concentration, with some super flavorful skin to boot, and made sense with those chewy dumplings. However, my concern was that I found the kumquat overly tart, so I would've liked a more assertive spice from the chorizo to even that out.

CHAPSSAL DONUTS · 찹쌀 도넛 [$14.00] | gruyère, raclette, sweet rice, crème fraîche ice cream
Desserts come courtesy of Executive Pastry Chef Celia Lee, a South Korean native and French Pastry School grad who's previously worked at the likes of Naro, Atomix, Mifune, The Modern, Ladurée, and Milk Bar. Her glutinous rice doughnuts had that pleasingly chewy texture I was seeking, and displayed a delectable medley of sweet and cheesy flavors that was only further elevated by that unusually viscous ice cream.

EVERYDAY WE TRUFFLIN' [$26.00] | golden barley, disaronno, white chocolate, vanilla, truffle
The night's last cocktail possessed a delicate, truffle-driven musk that worked surprisingly well with the drink's fragrant vanilla notes and undercurrents of chocolate, the amaretto offering up a sweet backbone.

GOGUMA BINGSU · 고구마 빙수 [$16.00] | hudson valley milk, goguma, black sugar
My meal concluded with what might be the best bingsoo I've had. I reveled in its deep sweet potato and caramel-esque flavors, countered by those savory crisps, while the shaved ice's consistency was super light and dainty.

Oiji Mi served as a delicious welcome back to the Manhattan dining scene, and it quickly became apparent to me that the Chef's vision of contemporary Korean cookery is quite unlike any other I'd had before. What was interesting was that the food was simultaneously very familiarly Korean at times, yet seemingly not very Korean at all at others, but it somehow still all made good sense. It was a smart, creative reinterpretation of the cuisine, and I can certainly see why this place was Michelin-starred. That being said, Kim and company have even loftier goals, and thus have recently launched an even more upscale restaurant called Bōm. Located behind Oiji Mi, it opened back in January 2023 and is a tasting menu-only affair at a significantly higher price point. I just might have to check the place out sometime...


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