Oiji: Where Traditional Korean Meets Haute Persuasion
Salutations! Welcome back to Ngo Your Meal. Today, we're going to visit Oiji, a refined, authentic Korean restaurant in the East Village of New York City. I'm just going to put it out there and say that Oiji is one of our favorite Korean restaurants in the city and I'm extra excited to talk about it. This post will contain pictures from two separate visits so there's a lot to talk about.
First things first, I wouldn't characterize Oiji as a "fusion" restaurant. It's focused on traditional Korean flavors with a modern twist with regard to plating, cooking techniques, etc. The restaurant is a bit small so I recommend getting a reservation. The atmosphere is intimate and vibrant. The game plan here is to order a couple dishes to share so that you and your party can enjoy as many different things as possible.
PRO TIP: This isn't that much of a pro tip but GET THE COCKTAILS. Their head bartender (Ryan Te) was listed in Zagat's 30 under 30. At Oiji, you'll find housemade infusions, Asian-inspired syrups, and cocktails that showcase the type of soju that doesn't suck (e.g. Hwa Yo).
Overall, Oiji is a hit. It's one of my favorite restaurants of 2017. There are a few misses on the menu but they aren't deal breakers. Hope you can try this restaurant and order a cocktail or two or three on my behalf :)
Address: 119 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003
Truffle Seafood Broth with Sizzling Crispy Rice
Ssam Platter with Spicy Pork and Gang-deon-jang
Gochujang Braised Chicken with Root Vegetables
Honey Butter Chips
Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice
Pine Leaves Smoked Mackerel with Citrus Soy
Slow Cooked Oxtail with Root Vegetables
Alright, let's get started. First, we got the Chil-jeol-pan, which was a deconstructed Bibimbap (a traditional Korean rice dish). It comes out looking super colorful. On the plate, you'll find a stack of rice crepes surrounded by a variety of toppings.
Here, you can build your own crepe. The toppings consist of eggs, beef, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and cheese! Overall, I thought this was an average dish. It wasn't amazing but it's a good appetizer and fun to eat.
Now, if you want something similar to the Chil-jeol-pan, you can also get the Ssam Platter (see above). "Ssam" means "wrapped" in Korean. If you like going to the Build-a-Bear workshop or you just like eating with your hands, you might be a big fan of this dish. It's a bit more savory than the chil-jeol-pan dish. The Ssam Platter comes with a couple hot ingredients that you can put into your lettuce wrap (included). The two main toppings are the Spicy Pork and the Gang-deon-jang.
I love the Gang-deon-jang, which is a traditional Korean soybean stew. It's thick and complex in flavor. Usually it is seasoned with Gochujang, a red chili paste full of spicy, savory, sweet, and fermented flavors. Some people might think it's a bit salty so be conservative at first! Choose whatever toppings you want. Follow your dreams.
The next dish is a MUST order (see above). The Slow Cooked Oxtail with Root Vegetables will change your life. The meat on this one actually falls off the bone. You don't even need a knife or a fork.
It also comes with some potatoes and carrots. This dish will make you feel good inside. Imagine the feeling of having your Korean grandmother making this for you on a Tuesday night to help you get through the week.
The other slow cooked dish is the Pork Belly (see above). I don't think it's as good as the Oxtail but it's pretty good. I've ordered this dish twice and the first time was amazing. We had a good crisp on the skin and there was a perfect amount of fat. But, the second time I ordered it, the skin was not as crispy, the kimchi broth was bland, and the fat was rubbery.
Given my second experience, I probably don't need to order it again but I hope they improve it and keep things consistent because pork belly is life.
With all this meat, I think we need to take a break... with some cocktails! Steph got the Ginger's Secret. It's made with Rye Whiskey, Rhum J.M. VO, Dry Vermouth, Ginger Juice, Demerara Sugar, and Lemon. This one was refreshing but still complex and full-bodied thanks to the rye, vermouth, and rhum.
I got the Milk Punch. This was my first time trying any kind of Milk Punch. It was one of their specials on the date that we went so I don't think it's always on the menu. But, basically it was made with Lotus Leaf Infused Clarified Milk, Jasmine Infused Hwa Yo 41, Cynar, and Lemon Juice. Hwa Yo 41 is a Korean soju known for its refined and smooth flavors. It's 41% ABV and is aged in traditional Korean pottery. Cynar is an Italian liqueur known for its bittersweet flavor.
Besides the fact that Oiji makes their own in-house infusions using Asian-inspired ingredients, the most interesting part about this cocktail is probably the Clarified Milk. Basically, clarified milk describes the format in which the cocktail is produced. The mixed cocktail must have some acidic ingredient, in this case, it's the lemon juice. Hot milk is added to the mix, which curdles the milk and sucks up all the cloudiness of the drink. After straining out the curds, the result is a pure and crisp concoction. You need this in your life.
Next, we got the Truffle Seafood Broth with Sizzling Crispy Rice. I didn't get to try the Crispy Rice so I'm guessing it was a favorite. Regardless, the broth was what made this entree great.
The broth is poured into the bowl over the rest of the ingredients, which include Mussels, Squid, and Shrimp. It was unreal. It had enough truffles such that you could sense this dish's aromas as it approached. This is not for the faint of heart.
Alas, with all great restaurants, there were some things I wasn't totally a fan of, including the fried Chicken with Spicy Soy Vinaigrette (see above). The vinaigrette was perfect but the chicken was underwhelming. I was not into the way that they fried this chicken. The fried coating felt oily and bland. Maybe we didn't get a good batch? They made this with tapioca batter.
For the final entree, I want to share my other favorite dish, which was the Pine Leaves Smoked Mackerel (see above). Don't even get me started on Mackerel. I could go all day. Regardless of where I'm eating, I always want to order Mackerel. It's naturally smokey and oily so you know you're in for a treat.
The flavor is a gift from the heavens. It's rich in Omega-3 fatty acids that help fight against heart disease and joint pain. Underneath the perfectly charred skin, you'll find that the meat is tender, moist, chewy, and bold. The fish is accompanied by a citrus soy sauce and a tiny brush made with pine leaves.
For best results, squeeze lemon juice over the Mackerel.
For dessert, there is only one option. There is only one Lord of the Dessert at Oiji and it's the Honey Butter Chips. I can't even begin to describe how good this dessert is. It saved the day.
When it arrives, you may wonder what the big deal is all about. It looks like a bowl of two generous scoops of vanilla ice cream with some seemingly average chips. Go ahead. Give it a try. It'll be love at first bite. The chips are sweet and addicting. This is not your average sugary treat. It reminded me of the crispy part of a crème brûlée. The most alluring part of this dessert is that the chips are made with chili powder which helps keep the sweetness at bay.