Gastropub? Sounds great. Korean? Sounds great. Small plates? Yes, sounds great. All three, in the same restaurant? Sounds really great. And it was — sometimes. Like now:
Spicy yellowtail sashimi, cho jang, jalapeno
Bo ssam: braised pork belly, scallion, dehydrated daikon, kimchi cabbage wrap
Bulgogi beef sliders
Danji is a Korean restaurant that’s styled like a Japanese izakaya, or gastropub (like Sakagura). So you’ll find Korean and Asian-inpsired small plates, but ones that would stand up to a good beer or sake. Chef Hooni Kim knows what he’s doing. He did some time at Daniel and Masa, and while the food isn’t nearly up to those standards, it’s certainly good. For a pre-theater meal, I’d say it’s very fine indeed. In fact, the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in the 2011 edition. A first for a Korean place, they say.
The scene isn’t particularly Korean. There’s a small bar up front, a couple of communal tables that seat 8 each and then these blond wood tables in the back. The colors are whites and creams — even the bricks are white washed. There are only 36 seats.
The menu, which is divided into traditional and modern dishes, is also quite small.
They keep the menus in these little drawers built right into the tables.
I started with an excellent cocktail called Su Jung Kwa, made with rye, cinnamon, lemon and bitters:
Greg and Boo had Hitachinos.
Sam had milk.
The first two dishes we had were among the best of the night. The wild mushroom “jook” with truffle oil:
Jook is a creamy, soupy rice porridge, but here it was called “risotto” (yes, with the quotes). It was sort of like a risotto, but definitely soupier. It was very rich and delicious.
The yellowtail was killer. Inside were little crunchy leaves of cabbage, I think kimchi, which gave the dish depth of texture and taste.
The spicy sauce — he called it cho jang, we’ve usually been calling it gojujang — was really a winner.
The bo ssam was very good, too. Crispy and fatty pork belly, wrapped in cabbage leaves with a spicy sauce and kimchi on the side.
The wings — we got both spicy and the soy-honey versions — were lame.
They just didn’t have the crisp skin or juicy meat they should have. Honestly, Bon Chon is way better.
We got the trio of kimchi. All were good, but I was disappointed that we’d already had one of them with the bo ssam dish.
These bulgogi sliders were to die for. All the warm spices and juicy meat of bulgogi without the work of Korean barbecue. No messy grills. No smoky tables. And a soft, squishy bun with a pickle on top? The best.
We ordered another round as soon as we tasted them.
The pork sliders were also good — a little spicy, actually — but we preferred the beef.
The “Spicy Old School Stinky Miso Beef Stew with Organic Tofu” sounded delicious. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
A Korean hot pot, this was not. It didn’t have the lift it deserved — except for the stinky, and it was stinky, there wasn’t much else going on. A little spice, that was it. We didn’t want to end on that note, so we ordered one more dish, the kimchi-bacon-chorizo paella with an egg on top.
We were thankful we did. Really nice job, down to the scallions.
So we liked Danji, but weren’t completely blown away. Some things, like that yellowtail dish and the sliders, are worth the trip, though. And if you’re in the neighborhood for the theater, you certainly can’t go wrong.
The 411 on Danji: A Korean small plates restaurant, decked out in modern design with whitewashed brick and a small bar. The chef, Hooni Kim, earned a Michelin star for his creative takes on modern and classic Korean dishes. We loved the yellowtail sashimi, the wild mushroom jook and the bulgogi sliders. 346 West 52nd St, Manhattan. 212-586-2880; danjinyc.com.