To understand what chef Kyungmin Kay Hyun’s new restaurant Mokyo is trying to bring to the East Village dining scene, it’s worth considering her first project, a quirky tapas spot turned minor internet celebrity named Thursday Kitchen. There, she channeled Korean flavors into eccentric drinking food — but the restaurant, which became a popular hangout for locals in their twenties, is better known for its Instagrammable cocktails than its food. Thursday Kitchen’s colorful, light-up soju concoctions come in a handheld plastic pouch vaguely resembling a Capri Sun.
At Mokyo, though, Kay Hyun hopes that the food will come first, not the drinks. The chef, who’s worked at ABC Kitchen and Jean-Georges, is aiming to bring her finer dining training to the foreground, with artfully plated dishes that maintain the same playful and nostalgic edge that made Thursday Kitchen so popular.
The restaurant, opening Wednesday at 109 Saint Marks Place, between Avenue A and 1st Ave, is once again rooted in Korean cuisine but this time with more Peruvian and Spanish influences.
She pairs corn dumplings with salsa verde and scallop ceviche with dashi. Chicken comes glazed with sauce made from soy and panca chile, as well as a dollop of sesame yogurt. Dishes that don’t frequent Korean menus like lobster roll and gumbo also make appearances at Mokyo, accented by dashi and Korean chile pepper. And the dessert headliner, called Pop Rocks, riffs on the childhood candy by layering mascarpone and berries over carbonated sugar, which, true to form, “actually pops in your mouth,” Kay Hyun says.
It’s all an attempt to showcase a more elegant side to Kay Hyun’s cooking. At Mokyo, dishes are delicately plated using tweezers, whereas the food at Thursday Kitchen skews larger and is less concerned with plating, like with sweet potato fries topped with Sriracha goat cheese or soft shell crab served in a metal basket befitting of a neighborhood fish and chips shop.
In line with the hope for a less raucous restaurant, Kay Hyun does not plan to bring the hit Capri Sun cocktails to Mokyo. The focus instead on infused sojus, which come into play in cocktails such as the Autumn Sunset (chai-infused soju and sour cherry jam) or the Hongcho Highball (basil-infused soju). There’s also a short list of beer, wine, and sake.
Though Mokyo is intended to be a tad fancier than Thursday Kitchen, the space is still quite casual, with a long bar, industrial accents, and dishes under $15. The idea, she says, is for it to be a romantic night out.
Mokyo opens Wednesday, February 5 at 109 Saint Marks Place, between Avenue A and 1st Ave. The 55-seat restaurant is open Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Sundays from 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 6:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Closed on Mondays for now.