Korean – With a Quirky Spin on Everything
Promising a new perspective on Korean cooking in New York, Oiji is a break from the norm and the juxtaposition of Korea and Downtown Manhattan is utterly seamless
Review by Catherine Ferguson
The first, and possibly most important, thing to note about Oiji is that it doesn’t have a sign, so when you’re wandering through the heart of the East Village and Google Maps tells you that you’re there; then you probably are. I’d advise against trekking back and forth up and down the street in the pouring rain looking for a sign until your coat is so wet that the waitress has to put a ‘Caution – Wet Floor’ sandwich board next to it. Oh yes, that actually happened.
So once you’ve actually found your way there, Oiji is a dark, cosy little hideaway. The open kitchen, reclaimed wood, exposed brick and ambient lighting create an intimate atmosphere, enhanced by the stylish wooden cutlery and contemporary place settings.
The brainchild of Korean-born Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku, Oiji promised a new perspective on Korean cooking for New York, offering a tapas-style menu designed for sampling and sharing. With dishes ranging form $14 to $32, there’s something to suit most pockets, though it’s almost impossible to avoid wanting a little taste of everything. There are elements of most dishes which sound familiar to the Western palate, but there’s a quirky spin on everything.
All the plates were aesthetically delightful, from Oysters with radish kimchi, Granny Smith and Cilantro Mignoette, to Black Cod, baby turnip, Korean radish and citrus soy and the simple fried chicken and spicy soy vinaigrette. The handmade dumplings with white beef broth tasted remarkably like a Great British Sunday dinner, while the lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice was a perfect, if unexpected, accompaniment.
On the dessert-front, there’s quite literally only one option at Oiji – the honey butter chips and vanilla ice cream for which they have quickly become famous. There’s a certain umami vibe to the sweet, salty, buttery chips, which are inexplicably moreish. It might be a little controversial, but one of my favourite things about Oiji was the portion size. In a city where amazing food and drink is available at every turn, it was great to nibble on Dim Sum plates and still have room for pudding.
The drinks menu offers an equally authentic escape from the humdrum, with six varieties of Soju, alongside traditional rice, plum and raspberry wines. There’s an extensive cocktail menu with a small wine list for the ardent oenophile.
Oiji is a clear break from the norm and a great place for a bunch of friends to meet and share dishes from across the menu. It’s as much about the venue as the menu and the juxtaposition of Korea and Downtown Manhattan is utterly seamless.