Archive for July, 2010

July 27, 2010

first informal tasting

At an undisclosed location on Central Park West, chef/owner Hooni unofficially hosted his first informal tasting to test out a few of the dishes and flavors he has in mind for Danji.  The intimate party of eight, mainly friends, enjoyed a spirited evening of food and wine.

Per Danji’s request, I will not go into too much detail about the food itself, but will say that the progression of 6-8 savory courses presented very genuine Korean flavors.  That should be translated as: spicy dishes were not toned down, causing this blogger to embarrassingly sip water after each bite.

I will leave it at that and let the few pictures I’m choosing to leak speak for themselves.

Team Danji is also starting to spread the word about the restaurant, taking its first step by making Danji’s official facebook page.  That seems to be the trend these days, restaurants putting up facebook sites before their official launch for the purpose of grassroots marketing.

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A few readers have raised questions for and about this humble blogger, the most frequently asked question being why I am writing anonymously.

As much as I am aware that you would probably feel a stronger connection to this blog if you knew more about me, I want to maintain my position as an outsider not involved in the restaurant’s decision-making process.  Talking about myself will only detract from the primary goal of this blog: documenting Danji’s growth.

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July 20, 2010

…and the ball starts rolling

Two milestones were reached in the past week, granting the restaurant the green light to proceed with development. Pretty major milestones, if you ask me:

(1) SBA loan granted.  Normally, this government-backed loan is unheard of for a new restaurant in NYC, simply because of the high failure rate of restaurants.  The U.S. Small Business Administration promises low interest and lax rules regarding a guarantor, thus making its loan very, very difficult to obtain.  The loan process consisted of a lot of paperwork, delays, and tears (okay, that is an exaggeration), but needless to say, Danji’s loan was finally approved.*

(2) Design finalized.  Team Danji met with the people of crème design on a weekly basis during the past month to discuss every aspect of the restaurant.  From floor plans to fabric colors, the team pored over crème design’s suggestions and decided on a plan to replace everything currently in the space.

What’s next? The contractors will be given the design plans and the demolition of the entire place should be completed within the next two weeks.  And that liquor license is still in the works…

* However, I’m sure another delay would have produced some kind of yelling match (à la Jerry Maguire) between the owner and the bank.

July 14, 2010

the “before” pictures

The space Danji is going to fill is kind of a hot mess right now.  The demolition should start taking place next week, so I thought it would be a good idea to take a few “before” pictures of 346 W 52nd Street.

My first impression of the place was that it is cramped.  And dirty.  Even though the space has been empty for a while, it is hard to believe that it housed a restaurant before.  From the peeling ceilings to the scratched floors, it looked as if it has always been unkempt.  The loose wires, dust, and lingering weird smell made me question whether it could ever be turned into a chic restaurant.  It may have been a cozy place to dine in thirty years ago, but now exudes an outdated look that feels out of place in comparison to its modern surroundings.

I can’t wait to see what the team has in store for Danji.  Its transformation could possibly serve as a model for the pilot of Extreme Makeover: “NYC Restaurant” Edition.  A great idea, if I must say so myself…

July 8, 2010

behind the name: danji

Danji.  A Korean word that could mean a variety of things but often defined as clay jars of various sizes, shapes, and colors.  A danji can serve a purpose as anything from a honey jar to a jewelry box, and is usually used to contain the kimchi, soy sauce, and other scrumptious staples of a Korean household.

According to chef/owner Hooni Kim, he discovered the name Danji entirely by chance.  While reading a Korean children’s book to his young son, he came across a picture of a honey jar with “danji” written on it.  He thought that “danji” was the Korean word for honey and both simple and easy to remember, his requirements for a restaurant name.  Later on, he realized that it meant something completely else but liked “danji” enough to choose it for the name of his first restaurant.

The word “danji” personally evokes nostalgia in my mind — I remember growing up with an assortment of earthenware pots around the house (yes, even in New York).  My family would dine al fresco in the backyard each summer, and a medley of spicy and savory Korean sauces — individually presented in small pottery — would always accompany our barbecue meals.  I can see Danji providing New Yorkers an escape from the city’s hustle and bustle with a cozy, welcoming presence as suggested by its name.  I guess we’ll find out over the next few months!

July 6, 2010

once upon a time…

…in New York City, there was a new restaurant in the works, with a random outsider anointed to document the entire process from conception to birth.

Okay, enough talking in the third person.  Who am I and what am I doing?  And what the heck is Danji?

Let’s start with the “who” part: I am an outsider with no emotional, financial, or legal ties to Danji.  I am also not a food or restaurant critic, though I would love to walk in the shoes of an Iron Chef judge for a day.  I am a native New Yorker, but one that has been displaced long enough to be intrigued by new restaurants opening in the year 2010.  My palate is still young as to not be jaded by the “reinvention” that Danji proposes, but is also Korean by blood that can discern bad “hanshik” (Korean cuisine) from a mile away.

What I’ll be doing: Exactly what the description suggests.  I’m fulfilling my not-so-secret dream of putting photography, pseudo-journalism, and food in the same sentence.  I also have more free time than most to harass the people of Danji, demand updates on the restaurant, and document what’s going on.  What I won’t be doing is working for Danji in any shape or manner.  This is a personal weblog, so the opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of the restaurant.

And last, but not least, what is Danji?

According to the first introduction I received from Team Danji:

DANJI will be a 33 seat restaurant/bar serving modern and traditional Korean cuisine in a small plates concept similar to a Japanese izakaya or Spanish tapas bar.  The chef/owner, Hooni Kim has trained at Daniel and Masa, 2 of only 5 restaurants in NYC with 3 Michelin stars and 4 NY Times stars. The interior design will be by Jun Aizaki, the principal at Crème Design well known for their work at Forge, Kogashima, and all of Iron Chef Jose Garces’ restaurants.  The front of the house will be run by Andrew Finver who gained experience at Citronelle in Washington DC.