Monday, April 11, 2011

Danji: Korean Tapas in Hell's Kitchen

If you were to ask someone from NYC what neighborhood to check out for a great meal, you’d probably hear East Village, Tribeca, West Village, Lower East Side, Chelsea; more blatantly, what I’m trying to say is that the last answer you would ever hear is Hell’s Kitchen.  

I am here to invalidate all of the anti-Hell’s Kitchen folks out there and open their eyes to the delights that my beloved neighborhood has to offer.  I have lived in this area since I moved to the city four years ago, so admittedly I am biased (and those who know me also realize I tend to stay in the vicinity purely out of laziness).  But all of that aside, Hell’s Kitchen is booming.

In the past year, new restaurants have been popping up here ranging from ramen at Totto Ramen to French cuisine at La Silhouette.  Late last year, on one of my weekly trips to my favorite farmer’s market on 52nd Street, I stumbled upon Danji, a Korean tapas restaurant slated to open sometime by the end of the year. 

Danji finally opened in December 2010. I took a glance at the menu online and as soon as I saw the very first menu item – butternut squash congee, I was already running out of my apartment. I had to go. Ok, it actually took me a few months to fit it into my rigorous eating schedule.

Finally, I coerced my husband into accompanying me to Danji (when he really just wanted McDonald’s). Danji is a very small restaurant, with seating for only about 30 or so diners.  The front half of the restaurant houses the bar and a few eight person communal tables (the high table variety with bar stools), while the back of the restaurant has a few normal tables.  

Now on to what we’re really here for – the food:

butternut squash congee w. mochi, hobak jook: I was expecting your traditional rice porridge flavored with butternut squash, but when these little teacups of congee came out, what was actually presented to me was a unique play on congee.  The “porridge” was a smooth butternut squash puree, while the “rice” was actually pieces of mochi.  It was pure and simple and was actually quite a comforting dish.

'k.f.c.' korean fried chicken wings*, garlic, soy, honey & sesame: These fried chicken wings did not disappoint.  Similar flavors to what you would taste at Bonchon.  No complaints here, I wanted another plate for myself.

bulgogi filet mignon* sliders (for 2), spicy pickled cucumber & scallion salsa: The bulgogi in the sliders was incredibly juicy and a perfect blend of spicy and sweet.  This is another dish I could have had all to myself.

kimchi bacon* fried ‘paella’ (for 2), fried knoll krest farm egg: The “paella” came out on a sizzling hot plate so that the rice on the bottom formed a crispy crust.  Essentially just a plate of fried rice, it was pretty good but nothing amazing.  Slightly greasy and a touch on the salty side.

Service: Service was top notch - the waitress was very friendly, explaining all of the dishes to us and providing us with recommendations.  The staff was very attentive and clearly displayed a certain pride in the restaurant.  The manager actually came to chat with us after we finished our meal to ask us how we liked everything.

Ambience: Understated cool.  The décor was very simple, and like I said, communal seating was in use.  It's an intimate setting, so I would definitely recommend for a date (unless you or your date doesn’t want to have strangers sitting right next to you).

Score: 3.5 out of 5 piggiesOk, so I know tapas restaurants are supposed to be cool, hip, modern, trendy, [insert whatever buzz word you would like here], but for me, it’s not typically my ideal way to eat.  Maybe it’s because I’m possessive of my food and don’t like to share / I eat a lot; but needless to say, I actually really enjoyed all of the dishes we tried at Danji and the overall experience.  It’s a welcome addition to Hell’s Kitchen and definitely worth the trip for those of you who tend to stray away from the HK.  

346 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 586-2880


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