Oiji Mi, the second New York City restaurant from chef-ownerBrian Kim, opened last month to high praise in the Flatiron District. Scoring a table during prime time is one of the hardest ‘gets’ in the city right now, and for good reason.
The main dining room, which is inspired by a hanok (a traditional Korean home), showcases Kim’s deep appreciation for the beauty of Korean craft. There, diners indulge in a five course, $135 prix-fixe meal while surrounded by warm architectural elements and decor rooted in the culture. Nearly all the furniture and lighting is custom made by full-service interior design firm AvroKO: the pendants and sconces are rendered in oiled brass and inspired by binyeo (traditional Korean hair and jewelry pieces), while the leather banquettes, booths, and dining chairs pay homage to the Gilded Age clubs that dotted the neighborhood before the city’s social scene shifted uptown.
On the menu, those knowledgeable of Korean cuisine will find some familiarity in Kim’s take on well-known dishes, while those newer to the culture’s food will be delighted by their discoveries. Highlights include the first course’s dessert-like bokbunja foie gras atop brioche and the second’s bo ssam, replete with kimchi, oysters on the half shell, ibérico pork belly, and a spicy mustard mignonette. The third course’s chilled chili lobster ramyun is a standout for being simultaneously refreshing, creamy, yet rich with umami and that zingy hit of brininess that accompanies only the freshest seafood. Of the mains, the smoked Japanese sea bass is perched atop a truffle seafood broth that is poured table-side and is an experience unto itself. Come dessert, Gruyère and creme fraiche bring a mouthwatering tang to Kim’s spin on chapssal donuts, which highlight the chef’s flair for reinterpreting traditional recipes—and pair excellently with the lemon and almond notes prevalent in the restaurant’s after-dinner espresso. For a beverage with a different sort of buzz, the sommeliers will recommend à la carte wine pours to suit any of the 12 plates that make up the menu’s four main courses.
Part of the successful execution of each course and its meticulous plating is the tableware, which was hand-selected by Kim and makes each dish truly sing. “Before we opened, I put a lot of time and energy into trips to Korea where I worked very closely with Korean artists and ceramicists to create custom tableware,” he says, name-checking GeoChang brass flatware, OU glassware, Soil Baker, and IAAC ceramics.
The food and interiors shine, but credit is also due to the impeccable service. The staff are decked out in customLady and Butler uniforms and pristine Nike Air Force 1s, and move throughout the space with the precision and expert menu knowledge of a restaurant that’s been open for years rather than a matter of weeks. “We focus on art and design in not only the space, but our plating, and more. The uniforms are a continuation of this; we wanted them to be beautiful, but not too formal. We invested in all of the staff wearing white Nike Air Force 1s [because] we liked how this added to the overall clean, but not too stuffy look,” says Kim.
The fully open concept design of Oiji Mi’s kitchen puts the skill of its chefs on display. If the balletic rigor of preparing any one of the 13 possible plates for every patron in the restaurant weighs on the crew of about eight, they don’t show it, working with joy and apparent ease. “A restaurant should be able to provide a good dining experience like the ambiance and music, but an open kitchen is also part of that,” Kim says of the choice to keep the layout open. “People love the sounds of the kitchen and the visuals that come along with it. Though we are very busy, we work very cleanly and are very organized, so it’s fun and beautiful for the diners to watch.”
Fun and beautiful indeed. Both attributes are apparent in every aspect of Oiji Mi’s hospitality experience, putting it into a category all its own. Best of luck getting a table.