Korean cuisine is renown for its big bold flavors, but lack the precision in preparation and presentation that you’d find at a French or Japanese restaurant. In fact, the same shortcoming applies to many cuisines that are served family style: big portions served (or sometimes slopped) onto large plates.
That’s why I’d never take a date to a Korean or Chinese restaurant. The authentic restaurants are sloppy, and the higher-end pretentious ones lack the genuine flavor I seek.
What if a place promises to serve Korean flavor with French precision, served with a tapas style of small plates? Sounds like a winner. Judging by the lines in front of Danji, it’s caught on.
Located on 52nd Street west (the same block as Totto Ramen), Danji is a tiny restaurant and tapas bar. The small dimensions plus a no reservation policy means that by dinner time, the door gets tight and a small crowd gathers waiting on the street. If you want your meal to start promptly, I advise arriving before 6:30PM.
The menu, which you can find in a tiny drawer for each seat, shows two sides of Danji’s approach to Korean cuisine: traditional and modern. At first glance, the prices look affordable, but that’s because portions are truly small. The serving size for each of the dishes at Danji is like the small complementary appetizer plates you find at regular Korean restaurants.
However, size is where the similarities end. The quality of the food served at Danji is above any other Korean restaurants I’ve experienced in NY.
From the traditional side, the poached sablefish with spicy daikon was a showcase of French methods (poaching fish) while still applying a liberal amount of chili powder.
The other two plates from the traditional side resembled more of the Korean food I was familiar with. The grilled pork belly served with kimchi and tofu, and the Korean skirt steak bbq were more refined than other Korean restaurants around the city, but the price certain reflects the premium status.
The miso beef brisket stew with organic tofu was also similar to other soups found at K-Town restaurants. It was extra tasty, but the portion was only a few spoonfuls.
The modern side featured Korean ingredients and dishes prepared with multicultural influence. Spicy yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño was reminiscent of the Nobu classic, except ponzu was replaced by Cho Jang, a Korean vinaigrette.
Bulgogi filet mignon sliders were simply traditional Bulgogi, but instead of serving on a hot skillet, it was served inside two toasted buns.
Kimchi bacon chorizo paella combines the popular pickled vegetable with Spanish paella methods, and sounds extremely exotic. For me, this simply tasted like Kimchi Fried Rice. To the chef’s credit, this was some damn good fried rice.
Danji is one fine restaurant, but it was not as groundbreaking as I hoped. All of the flavors were somewhat familiar, and I felt the chef didn’t push the boundaries as much as his talents allowed. With the help of French techniques, Danji elevates Korean cuisine, but not quite to a completely new level. With that said, if you want a refined Korean cuisine, this is it.
What does this rating mean?
Danji (Does not take reservations)
346 W 52nd St; btwn 8th and 9th
New York, NY 10019