REVIEW

Danji

The second best Korean restaurant in NYC after Jungsik, Danji serves outstanding traditionally-flavored yet accessible small plates in a trendy, compact setting.  With only 36 uncomfortable seats around communal tables and no reservations, the bar area eventually becomes completely untraversable with the line of waiting diners finally snaking out the door.  Given that dining at Danji can be such an ordeal, one might justifiably wonder what has elicited such rabid enthusiasm.  The answer is fairly straightforward:  the cuisine of Hooni Kim, a classically trained chef formerly of Daniel and Masa who makes annual pilgrimages to Korea to seek inspiration and scout the best ideas. 

The timber-overlaid whitewashed brick dining room is outfitted with danji (clay pots) on high shelves, screens strung with spoons and bare bulbs in wire cages. You retrieve your menus from a tiny slide-out drawer in the table. 

Although Kim has bifurcated the menu into traditional and modern dishes, the line is blurry at best.  Pork belly sliders come with scallions, cucumber julienne and a smear of gochujang, the fiery hot chile paste.  The yellowtail sashimi from Japan's Tsukiji fish market is buttery and refreshing, with a flash of jalapeño heat and, contra Nobu, cho jang in place of yuzu.  The list of hits at Danji is very long, but perhaps the very best include the poached sablefish with spicy daikon, the bossam (braised pork with a cabbage wrap) and the galbi jjim (braised short ribs in soy, sake and mirin).  The kimchee is made by Mr. Kim's mother-in-law, who was none too pleased when he dropped out of medical school to pursue his career as a chef, but she seems to have come around, and for good reason:  Danji is the first Korean restaurant to have received a Michelin star.

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INFORMATION

Midtown West
346 W. 52nd St.
New York (nr. Ninth Ave.)
212-586-2880
Mon-Thu, noon-3pm and 5:30pm-11pm; Fri, noon-3pm and 5:30pm-midnight; Sat, 5:30pm-midnight; Sun, closed
    Hooni Kim, Chef