Esther Choi makes most of her decisions with her family in mind. In the opening of her first brick-and-mortar location for Mokbar in February, Choi was candid about how her relationship with her Korean grandmother, Jungok Yoo, influenced her career in food. Now Choi is ready to unveil her latest: a Korean gastropub in the Lower East Side named after her grandmother, Ms. Yoo.
The restaurant at 163 Allen Street is a departure from Choi’s months-old Brooklyn outpost of Mokbar, which focuses on the homestyle Korean food Choi’s grandmother used to cook for her, and an even bigger departure from the ramen-focused, Chelsea Market outpost, her first place.
Look for bar snacks like nori popcorn, smoked edamame, and honey butter chips (think Oiji), though the star of the food menu will be a share plate of Korean fried chicken stuffed with ginseng glutinous rice. Other dishes include fried chicken feet, roasted bone marrow, Korean sausage on pretzel rolls, and the Ms. Yoo burger topped with bacon kimchi and gochujang aioli.
And since Choi says she drew inspiration for Ms. Yoo from The Spotted Pig, a restaurant known for its chargrilled burger as much as for its scene, Ms. Yoo is not just about the food. “We want there to be a focus on cocktails and the bar as well as the food,” says Choi. “We want the entire menu to be really inviting, and cater to the neighborhood crowd.”
It is the Lower East Side after all, a neighborhood known for its high density of liquor licenses and the cheeky moniker Hell Square. So Choi partnered with a trio of nightlife vets, who helped her develop a number of Korean-inspired shrubs and syrups to be mixed into cocktails, as well as a list of Japanese whiskeys and Soju.
The 40-seat space is flanked by a 10-seat bar, and serves as the entry to an upstairs lounge Choi hopes to have booked with private parties.
As for the restaurant’s namesake, Choi is excited for the real Ms. Yoo to visit. “I think she'll be really shocked when she sees Ms. Yoo and the type of menu I created from what I originally learned from her. She was quite critical about Mokbar's menu, but I think this is different enough that she will appreciate it.” Ms. Yoo is set to open Wednesday, July 12. Take a look around the bi-level space below, and stay tuned for more news on its opening.