601 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights
It’s been years since Korean fare made its great escape from the tight borders of K-Town, with restaurants of all stripes stocking their pantries with kimchi and gochujang, and classically trained chefs like Hooni Kim (Danji) and, more recently, Tae Kyung Ku (Oiji), relaying a refined and modern side of their native cuisine. But save for Red Hook’s much-loved The Good Fork (and its admired Korean-style steak and eggs), Brooklyn has continued to suffer a dearth of bulgogi and bibimbap.
That’s something Liz Kwon and Yoo Kwon Chung hope to rectify at Prospect Heights’ White Tiger, named for Korea’s elusive national animal. Inspired by the feline’s “strong but rare” attributes, the pair aims to amplify Korean dishes with their own signature, contemporary flourishes; but it’s a hit-or-miss formula—there’s no discernable innovation meriting a $7 surcharge for both kimchi and banchan (fermented veggies and an assortment of small plates), which are generally served gratis at Korean meals. And the twice-fried chicken simply doesn’t hold a candle to Talde’s (although we appreciate the sassy side of pickled potato salad), and it’s tough to justify ordering ramen here, with Chuko just down the street.
You might find yourself in awe of White Tiger’s kale salad, though (this version owes everything to peppery perilla leaves and earthy acorn jelly), as well as its Asian-Italian take on rice cakes—White Tiger reimagines ddeokbokki as glutinous gnocchi, pan-crisped rectangles, interspersed with fatty, spice-crusted lardons. Still, the restaurant is at its best when it doesn’t stray too far from its source material, as with a faithful rendition of bibimbap, a painter’s palette of vegetables, beef and egg arranged over a golden mound of rice, which clings to the sides of its sizzling stone bowl like a perfect paella.
There’s also an interactive kalbi ssam plate—lettuce cups paired with grilled, marinated short rib and other accouterments—which will soon be found at the upcoming Insa as well, a karaoke den and Korean barbecue hall from the venerable Good Fork team. It may have taken Brooklyn an uncharacteristically long time to get wise, but it looks like we’re primed for a Korean food revolution after all.