The duo behind the East Village’s popular modern Korean restaurant Oiji are headed to Flatiron on May 10 with a larger, more upscale restaurant called Oiji Mi. Chef Brian Kim and partner Max Soh say they’re viewing the space at 17 West 19th Street, near Sixth Avenue, as an opportunity to play with more luxe ingredients that weren’t quite a fit on the menu at their first restaurant, which has been temporarily closed since April.
“We’re on a mission to expand our culture so people can have a better understanding,” Soh says. In the East Village, Kim and Soh became known for their playful takes on Korean staples, serving bowls of honey butter chips and plates of deconstructed bibimbap meant for sharing. Here, the menu is more buttoned up: Ingredients like foie gras and caviar dot the menu, and most dishes come elaborately plated in individual portions.
The restaurant only serves a five-course prix fixe menu, priced at $125 per person, which will be available a la carte from its bar and lounge area in the coming weeks. The menu will rotate regularly, with holdovers from the team’s first restaurant — including its namesake Oiji bowl, brimming with uni and sweet shrimp — and new items that toe the line between traditional and modern Korean cooking with fanciful ingredients.
The opening menu consists of ramyun fortified with lobster and a version of bo ssam, for two, served with oysters on the half shell, a bamboo steamer of pork belly, and ssamjang and kimchi sauces for assembling wraps. Foie gras, set to be banned in New York City this November, will live out its final days on this menu as an appetizer with a sauce made from bokbunja, a Korean fruit wine.
“We want to balance traditional Korean flavors with international accents,” Kim says.
Chris Clark, the former beverage director at the two-Michelin-starred Aquavit, is holding down the restaurant’s drinks program. He’s assembled a list of wines by the glass that leans Italian and French, most priced between $15 and $40. Cocktails run at around $20 each, fortified with gochujang, date-infused soju, lotus leaf, and other ingredients.
The team is going for a vibe that falls somewhere between a Manhattan social club — there’s leather banquettes and marble countertops — and a more traditional Korean restaurant, with colorful wood trim and custom light fixtures. “As a guest, when they come in, they should feel like [it’s] a New York restaurant,” Soh says. “At the same time, the details in the flooring, the ceiling ... came from the idea of Korean architecture and design.”
Oiji Mi shares an entrance with another restaurant the business partners plan to open, an unnamed Korean spot set to open in the next two to three months, according to the team.
It’s all a stark change of pace from the shareable a la carte menu at the team’s first restaurant, which temporarily closed ahead of Oiji Mi opening. Kim described the closure as “temporary” in a post on Instagram, but it’s not clear whether the East Village Korean restaurant will reopen. Oiji’s Instagram account has since been turned into a page for the new restaurant, and a spokesperson says the team is waiting until Oiji Mi is up and running to “decide how they would like to move forward with the original concept.”
Oiji opened in 2015 to favorable reviews from the New York Times and Eater, where critic Ryan Sutton wrote that it ranked among the city’s best modern Korean restaurants. Despite the accolades, Kim and Soh say that at times the restaurant’s price point and upscale style of service felt a little out of place in the East Village, which skews younger thanks to Saint Marks Place and New York University, nearby.
That’s no longer the case in Flatiron, a Manhattan neighborhood that’s earned its weight in Michelin stars, thanks to heavy-hitting upscale restaurants like Eleven Madison Park, Rêzdora, Cote, and others. Kim and Soh are deeply aware of those restaurants, and say that part of the draw of opening uptown is being able to serve ingredients that customers might perceive as more upscale, including foie gras, caviar, and uni.
“We wanted to compete with the major hospitality groups,” Soh says. “As Korean restaurant owners, there’s not that many [of us], especially at this size.”
Oiji Mi is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 6 to 11 p.m.