This review of a New York restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
There are a depressingly large number of mediocre chain restaurants in and around New York’s Times Square, but there are some interesting independent eateries near that iconic location if you’re prepared to look around. Danij is a Korean restaurant located on a sidestreet a few blocks north-west of Time Square, so it’s both physically and culturally removed from Manhattan’s traditional Koreatown district. The dishes at Danji are designed for sharing and served tapas-style in a generally jargon-free way that’s accessible to those who’ve never tried Korean food before.
The decor at Danji is modern with none of the ethnic chintz seen at other restaurants that serve Korean food. The exposed brick walls are painted white and overlaid with timber, while the lighting is mounted inside wire cages. There are a few tables and bar seats, but most of the seating takes the form of raised communal-style benches and stools. One of Danji’s gimmicks is that the menus are hidden away in drawers built into the tables/benches.
Danji has separate lunch and dinner menus, but I only had the opportunity to sample the lunch menu. I started off with the deep fried calamari served with wasabi mayonnaise, which turned out to be very similar to the wasabi prawns at London’s Haozhan, among other places. Despite being deep fried, the squid was firm and weren’t too oily, but the anonymous batter was bland without a lot of character. The wasabi mayonnaise was disappointing on multiple levels – it was neither creamy enough like real mayonnaise nor did it have the capacity to burn your nasal hairs off like real wasabi. It was a bland, boring accompaniment to some bland, boring calamari.
Another deep fried dish were the vegetable dumplings. The crisp golden skins were filled with pickled vegetables which tasted surprisingly creamy. Despite the mildly spiced soy sauce accompaniment, the dumplings were unremarkable overall. Chowing down an entire plate proved to be a rather tiresome exercise in rumination, although this wouldn’t be a problem when shared with friends as the dish is intended to be eaten.
More successful was the kimchi trio. The spicy fermented vegetables here were cabbage, some sort of sweet cucumber and what I think was daikon radish. The tart and tingly vegetables had a cumulative spiciness – the more you ate, the more noticeable the sour spiciness although it was never overwhelming and was overall one of the more sedate kimchis I’ve had. This, along with the neatly stacked presentation, may make it more appealing to those who’ve never tried kimchi before.
The sole meat dish of my lunch were the bulogogi beef ‘sliders’ – or mini burgers as they’re known to non-Americans – also turned out to be the highlight of my meal. The glossy-looking buns were perfectly toasted and would’ve been perfect for holding the little burgers together if only they had been slightly bigger. The coarsely ground beef had a salty, peppery, tangy taste that was very moreish and covered in an egg sauce and slice of kimchi. The ragtag collection of green leaves on the side along with a dollop of wasabi mayonnaise added little to the dish though.
I washed it all down with some cranberry juice, although it was very watery and barely tasted of cranberries at all. Oddly, tea wasn’t available in any form.
Although the decor at Danji is attractive and the newbie-friendly approach is welcoming, most of the food at Danji is merely average. Perhaps it would’ve been different if I had visited for dinner rather than lunch, but the only truly memorable dish of my meal were the bulogogi beef sliders. However, this shouldn’t be hard to replicate in some form for any half-way competent Korean restaurant as bulogogi is a Korean staple. Danji isn’t bad as an introduction to Korean food, but already seasoned diners should head elsewhere.
Address: 346 West 52nd Street (between 8th & 9th Ave), New York, NY 10019
Phone: 212 586 2880
Opening Hours: Lunch – Monday-Friday noon-15.00
Dinner – Monday-Thursday 17.30-midnight, Friday-Saturday 17.30-01.00
Reservations: probably a good idea.
Total cost for one person including soft drink, but excluding tip: $36 (approx. £22 at time of writing)