Ever since I tried Korean cuisine a few years back in New York, at Hanjan (Flatiron) and Kunjip (Koreatown), I have been intrigued by its familiar yet unique flavors. Kunjip was a fun place to try Korean BBQ where they literally bring a small electric grill to your table and cook all the food right in front of your eyes. Talk about dinner and a show!!! And Hanjan, a very special restaurant by a very talented chef named Hooni Kim, brings Korean street food flavors to its diners in a lively and trendy setting.
There is a very strong presence of Kimchi (spicy, pickled cabbage) in Korean culture. In fact Kimchi is making its way into fusion cuisine all over the world…. and its doing nothing but good things to these innovative flavor profiles. And I have to admit that I am absolutely and madly in love with Korean Fried Rice!!! It has deep and well developed flavors from ingredients like gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) and sometimes even Kimchi mixed into it. A little spicy, a little sour and a whole lot of yum! Top it all off with a barely-set egg yolk as garnish… Well! That just seals the deal for me!
While I love this food, there is a lot I still don’t know about Korean cuisine. And I figure there is only one way to learn. It’s quite simple, really. My plan is to eat lots of Korean food made by reputable Korean chefs. So, this year, as I started getting all the notifications about the many New York Food & Wine festival events, one and only one dinner kept grabbing my attention. A Celebration of Korean Cuisine – dinner by 2015 Eater Young Gun, cookbook author and chef, Deuki Hong … and four-times James Beard nominee and star of Mind of A Chef TV show on PBS – chef Edward Lee.
The two chefs brought a very interesting mix to this dinner. Deuki Hong is very big on the art of fermentation and is planning to open a casual restaurant focused on that technique. While Edward Lee, blends his Korean roots with a deep passion for southern cooking. Let me tell you, the result was finger-licking good.
There were many standouts in this meal. Each dish showed incredible mastery over techniques and ingredients. Like the very fist bite of fresh oysters topped with Dongchimi granite. It’s bright flavors and light textures excited my palate. The Yukhwe i.e. beef tartare was seasoned with sesame oil and garnished with Asian pears. It was another one of those bites I could not get enough of. The Korean Fried rice that came as part of Banchan (assortment of side dishes) was to die for…. And oh! The Korean Fried Chicken was stuff that foodie-dreams are made of. Chef Lee’s southern influences were brightly shining in the incredibly crispy chicken. As if this wasn’t enough, along came a dish called Galbijjim (braised short ribs with root vegetables). The meat was falling off the bone – and you could ditch the knife and fork and easily scoop it up with a spoon. Beautifully cooked and deeply flavored with Korean BBQ flavors it was that perfect main course for this stellar meal.
Ahhh…. my mouth is watering just thinking about it. I can’t wait for chef Hong’s new restaurant to open. And if I am ever in Louisville, Kentucky – chef Edward Lee’s restaurants Milkwood and 610Magnolia will be on top of my list. But in the meantime…. I have made a reservation at Danji…. Chef Hooni Kim’s highly successful Korean tapas restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. Alas! A foodie’s job is never done!!!