Contemporary Korean in the Heart of Hell’s Kitchen: Danji
If you’ve been checking out For the Intolerants over the last 10 months, you’ll know that I go wild for Asian fare. It’s not only light, savoury and – more or less – nutritious, but it’s a kitchen where I don’t have to worry too much about potential food allergens. With Japanese, Korean, Thai and Cambodian (Chinese is a whole different can of worms that I’m still trying to figure out) it’s possible to circumnavigate allergies quite easily, particularly if you’re vegetarian and especially if you’re dairy or gluten intolerant.
That said, Korean food tends to be one of my favourites as I adore spicy kimchi, warming bibimbap and a tofu or beef stew topped with a medley of vegetables. I also enjoy indulging in a full-on meal and not feeling like my pants are going to split afterwards.
I mean, who wouldn’t?
Located in Hell’s Kitchen on West 52nd is Danji. A tiny place with wooden spoons on the wall and light bulbs in mason jars, Danji is one part tapas bar, one part authentic Korean and one part contemporary Japanese fusion.
The atmosphere is lively and the place often packed. If you find yourself waiting for a table (and chances are you will) it’s best to grab a drink at the bar and settle in, enjoy the the music and the company you arrived with. What you’ll notice once you’re seated is that the menu at Danji is rather compact with only nine traditional items and ten modern ones to choose from. There’s also a vegetarian menu for those clientele who eschew meat.
Now one thing you’ll notice as you zero in on the plates of your fellow diners is that the portion sizes are modest at best. While some might balk at what comes out of the kitchen, I find the size of the portions to be a nice change from restaurants that try too hard to fill every square centimetre of your 12″ plate. The point of dining at Danji isn’t to stuff yourself with as much soba or pork as possible, it’s about adopting a tapas style way of eating and sharing your food so you can get a taste of as many dishes as possible. My party of four went for the steak tartare with the quail yolk along with the bossam (braised pork), spicy “Korean Fried Chicken” (aka: KFC) wings, japchae (vermicelli noodles with beef and korean peppers), short ribs and the bulgogi beef sliders.
The food was tasty and very much enjoyed. Over the course of an hour and a half we sampled as the dishes came out one after another. The only item I avoided were the bulgogi beef sliders, but I otherwise went to town – and fully savoured I might add – the other items we ordered. I wholly appreciated the braised pork and steak tartare, and I couldn’t get enough of those vermicelli noodles with the beef/korean peppers. The only item I was impartial about were the wings: I was underwhelmed by the flavour (they were a touch too spicy and tangy) and I had a sneaky feeling they might have been wearing a thin coat of flour.
We finished our meal with our bellies the perfect amount of full and were pleased to see that we didn’t put too much of a dent in our wallets (it worked out to roughly $68 per person, which includes a bottle of wine and the tip mind you).
What I enjoyed most – aside from the company and the atmosphere – was the mixture of traditional and au courant items and the fact that the meat is hormone and antibiotic free, the fish are wild and organic produce is used when and where possible. While I know that eating “consciously” ramps up the cost of my grocery and restaurant bills, I don’t mind paying a bit extra when I can feel fairly secure that what I’m getting is as clean, local and intolerant-friendly as possible.
Just a few of the things that make for a most gratifying meal.
346 West 52nd Street
Tel: +1 (212) 586-2880
No reservations: get there early or bring a book.