With the July 12 debut of Ms. Yoo, the new establishment’s chef/partner Esther Choi takes a detour on her crusade to educate Americans about Korean food and culture from the authenticity that has ruled at her mokbar in Chelsea Market and mokbar Brooklyn to a playful hybridization of American bar favorites with Korean ingredients and techniques. Named after her grandmother who taught Choi how to cook, the two storey 50-seat Ms. Yoo at 163 Allen Street on Manhattan’s fashionably hip Lower East Side is a Korean take on an American food driven cocktail bar.
Ms. Yoo’s menu is rife with references to bar classics with Korean accents, all crafted by Choi to be tantalizingly tasty complements to the thriving American (and Korean) cocktail culture.
Witness wings re-imagined as Korean Fried Feet, sesame chile powder and K-Pop Shrimp, fried popcorn shrimp tempura with spicy gochujang among the snacks.
Or small plates like Choi’s riff on mac-n’-cheese Tteok n’ Cheese, rice cakes, gruyere and Cheddar, bacon, with panko topping and kimchi tomato sauce and Roasted bone Marrow with kimchi onion jam.
Then there are her Asian inspired hot dog and hamburger—Korean Dog on Bun, house made Korean sausage, grilled jalapeno, yoo sauce, pretzel roll and the Ms. Yoo 10 oz Burger, kimchi bacon onion relish, American cheese, brioche bun & skinny frites—and the fried chicken destined to THE Ms. Yoo’s hallmark.
It’s a dish Choi has wanted to do since she began her career; a whole fresh-killed chicken air-dried for two days before being stuffed with her grandmother’s herbed glutinous rice before being slow roasted, then fried and served whole—complete with head and feet—daikon kimchi, soy sesame and gochujang dipping sauce.
On the cocktail front, the I Ms Yoo bourbon, jujube, sweet vermouth, the Between the Knees, gin, ginger, strawberry, and lime and the Mist Whispers Like Woman, vodka, maesil, lemon are among the highlights. The entire cocktail program benefits from the experience of Choi’s three partners in the enterprise, each with successful bar business track records of 15 years or more. They worked with her to develop Korean accented shrubs and syrups, along with the list of Japanese whiskies and of sojus, some distilled locally.
A stunning study in a dramatic fusion of black, white, glass and mirrors enlivened by cast iron trellises dripping with flowered vines, the space - designed by Steve Lewis - is as much of a departure for Choi as the food. At Ms. Yoo, sleek Deco-esque glamour has replaced the rustic urbanity of the mokbars with their Korean decorative elements. The second floor, with a window wall overlooking the restaurant downstairs and a wood cubby-holed wall festooned with candles, will be dedicated to events for up to 75, the first such private dining room for Choi, although she has developed flourishing catering business.
Ms. Yoo is the second 2017 opening for Choi, whose mokbar Brooklyn, her first freestanding restaurant debuted in February. It speaks to Choi’s future aspirations to create a collection of different restaurant concepts the common thread of which will be some sort of ode to her Korean heritage.
Ms. Yoo is located at 163 Allen Street and will be open daily from 5 p.m.
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