Danji, Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, NYC ***** UPDATED

Q: What is it? A: A modern Korean restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen that happens to serve quite excellent food. It just recently lost its Michelin star, but don’t let that put you off!

Danji, Hell's Kitchen, NYC – the exterior
Looks like a hole in the wall. With 36 seats, I’d gladly call it a hole in the wall. But in this reviewer’s opinion a highly competent hole in the wall. Easy to find – just behind those parked US Postal Service-trucks!

Danji, Hell's Kitchen, New York – the dining room
This is about as big as it is, except for a few tables in the back. There are 33 seats to be exact. At one of my visits, I showed up right when they opened. I will hereby relay the tip to you. Very time efficient but just as enjoyable.

Eggs over rice with spicy cod roe – Danji, Hell's Kitchen, NYC
This is how you do it: Eggs over rice. Spicy cod roe and quail egg yolk. Serve with seaweed and sesame seed.

Spicy yellowtail sashimi – Danji, NYC
For being a Korean kitchen, Danji is surprisingly happy to give their creations a sharper, spicier edge. Here’s proof; spicy yellowtail sashimi (Tsukiji market hamachi), cho jang with a thin slice of jalapeño on top.

Crispy calamari w. wasabi mayo – Danji, NYC
Although very good, this is one of the least necessary courses on the Danji menu: Crispy calamari of Long Island squid with mild wasabi mayo. Again, an item on the more spicy side but dee-li-cious and still I was looking forward to… (read below)

Bulgogi beef sliders – Danji, NYC
…the bulgogi beef sliders. These miniature burgers were little works of art. As deep and dark on the palate as a great bulgogi should be. Lighter notes played by spicy pickled cucumber and scallion salsa.

danji_lamp_over_bar
Artful stuff in the ceiling over the bar. Walls of spoons act as room dividers and clay pots (danjis) decorate the shelves. Some say the interior is slightly Scandinavian. Well, OK… Kungens Kurva wasn’t THAT far away.

UPDATE: As of September 30, 2014, Danji is no longer a holder of a Michelin star. In my book this is a result of poor judgement as there are places offering really bad culinary experiences that are still holding on to theirs.
For the sake of clarity, I will let the original text remain. And if you ask me Danji SHOULD have kept that star. No question about that.

It doesn’t exactly scream Michelin-star restaurant.
If someone would have told me that ‘Hey, that place got a star!”, I would have sorted it under Highly unlikely just by the look of it. It may also have been the first Korean restaurant ever to be awarded by the tyre manufacturer. Refreshing choice, frog-eaters! The pick get less puzzling when you google the man behind this place. Hooni Kim is a Korean-American, born in 1972, who grew up in NYC and soon found himself cooking at culinary stalwarts like Daniel (three stars) and Masa (also three stars). With his two restaurants, Danji and Hanjan, he has quickly propelled himself into the world of restaurant celebrities. I don’t read the gossip columns, so maybe he wrecks hotel rooms on the side, but my conclusion is that Hooni Kim earned his status by being one helluva chef.

One traditional menu. One modern.
I have to make my way back to here soon. Partly because it was a very uplifting restaurant experience. Partly because I only ate from one page of the menu. The right side says Modern. The left, yet unexplored, side says Traditional. After ordering, the plates come in rapid bursts. None of the courses were huge, allowing me to try four without feeling like wanting to lie down on the floor (which would have been inconvenient for those present as I sat at the bar counter). Egg over rice kicks it off. Gooey, rich and mild if it hadn’t been for the cod roe on top. That extra spice sets the tone for the evening as the next course is the spicy yellowtail sashimi (which is basically Seriola quinqueradiata; or Tsukiji market hamachi with cho gang, a spicy-sweet red chili pepper sauce).

Soon… the almost world-famous bulgogi sliders.
The calamares arrive. The kitchen turns pairing very traditional flavors with pungent additions of spicy stuff into an art form. They mess with your expectations as the crispy, spicy squid from Long Island is kept company by a rather mild wasabi mayo. It’s a balance act and Hooni Kim apparently is the Philippe Petit of Korean cooking. But the best is yet to come: Who can not luurve bulgogi beef with its sweet and at the same time dark and deep flavor. Now, imagine such a potent package of taste on a tiny, squishy soft butter-grilled bread bun with pickled kimchee cucumber and scallion (spring onion for you Brits) salsa. Kim’s mother-in-law delivers the kimchee. It’s rich. It’s tender. It’s addictive as f@€k.

A must. Yes honestly.
As stated above, I only started browsing the right side of the menu. I could easily adapt to a Groundhog Day-like eating pattern and return only to order exactly the same stuff again and again. This restaurant will surely see more visits from Mr. Guidebook. The chatty and pleasant staff are busy but friendly and just right for this establishment. It’s not a restaurant for long, romantic discussions. It’s more like Blade Runner meets fine dining meets IKEA. I’m pleasantly surprised and – hands down – hooked. Go there. No reservations if you’re less than six. Just go. And enjoy.

Danji
346 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019
United States

+1-212-586-2880

OPENING HOURS:
Mon-Thu, 5:15 pm to Midnight
Fri-Sat, 5:15 pm to 1:00 am
(last call 1 hour prior to closing)

Lunch Mon-Fri from 12:00 pm to 2:30 pm.

Danji on Urbanspoon

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