Cuisine: Korean , French
Menu: View the Menu
When a new restaurant opens next to one of your current favorites, there is a protective mechanism that gets triggered. You worry. You don't want the favorite restaurant to get hurt. You don't want the new place to change the vibe of the neighborhood. So, I had been wondering about D'Or Ahn, a modern Korean restaurant that was in construction right next to Tia Pol. But Mani and Heather (the owners of Tia Pol) didn't seem concerned. They liked the owner and they were happy she was opening. But after a while it seemed it would never open. Months went by and the space remained a construction zone. But then, it opened—a year and a half behind schedule—but open nonetheless. And it looked stunning. But still, I wasn't sure I could go. I mean, could I come over to Tia Pol and then have dinner next door? The answer, for several months, was no. I just didn't feel right about it, not to mention that I could not pry myself away from Alex's food to go next door. But Mani and Heather had told me I should make time. They would not be insulted if I ate next door. They loved it and they really like the owner—Lanni Ahn. And so Jamie, Susie and I decided to tear ourselves away from Tia Pol for a night and check it out. I am glad we did.Review By: Andrea Strong
D'or Ahn is a little gem. Even from the outside, the restaurant is beautiful. A long, strong wooden door is stamped with lean silver lettering—D'or Ahn—and a slim rectangular window carved from the smooth clay façade offers a voyeur's view into the softly lit slender room. Standing outside looking in, there is something magical and mystical about this place. Once inside, the feeling continues. The dining room—a narrow, slipper-sized space with just about 20 tables—is precious, sexy, civilized, glamorous and cozy all at the same time. The room is dark, but pinpoint lights on the each table give you and your guests a flattering glow. The walls are lined with brick and fabric panels, and the bar is slate clay, like the façade, and includes a cold app station where a chef works on sushi-styled fish dishes. D'Or Ahn feels like some secret hideaway and you won't want to tell anyone about it. But I am telling you all. (Just don't tell too many others because if it gets like things are at Tia Pol, no one will be able to get in any more.)
D'Or Ahn is the vision of Lannie Ahn, a young, tiny, and delicately stunning woman who conceived of a place that would bring the flavors of Korea's Palace cuisine—an elegant style of cooking developed by the chefs of the royal families in the 17th and 18th centuries—together with European technique. To bring her vision to life, she hired Rachel Yang, a young, fresh-faced Korean-American woman who over the past five years has cooked at Ducasse, Daniel, and Per Se. Not a bad trifecta. While Yang was schooled in the details of Korean Palace cuisine by Ahn's Aunt, her exquisite approach to food—technique, seasoning, touch, plating—is clearly a product of her impressive pedigree.
Her menu offers a selection of raw, cold, and hot small plates to start and a selection of mains and sides. It is problematic only in that everything sounds great and you'll have a hard time figuring out what not to order.
While working through what we would eliminate, Susie mentioned she was not interested in the veal feet, but when cubes of crispy fried something or other came out to the table as amuse bouche, she had this to say: "Yum-A-Rama." Turns out, Susie does like veal feet. (Fried and crispy veal feet, that is.) And so did I.
We decided on a few raw fish dishes to start. A carpaccio of fluke ($12) was served on a long amber glass plate that made the pearly fish shimmer, as if lit by a glowing fire from underneath. The fluke slivers were marinated and topped with kelp—a sort of chewy seaweed that was a nice textural counterpoint to the silky fish. We also had a fun and fat toro tuna roll, filled with creamy diced toro and white kimchi wrapped up as maki ($8). Octopus ($12) will taste familiar to fans of Korean food. It's got that sweet, hot, spicy, pungent Korean flavor festival happening. Slices of tender octopus are tossed with grapes, slivered peppers and red onion in a sweet chili sauce. I loved Ms. Yang's version of bibimbob ($8)—a long rectangle of sticky rice topped with a hot and runny egg yolk, and a mound of sautéed mushrooms swiped with red chile sauce and drizzled with black sesame dressing. You might order two of these. I also loved the Kimchi pizza ($8), which many of you are probably making faces at right now. I encourage you to try it. It's like a spicy pizza—a super thin buttery crust gets topped with spicy-as-all-get-out kimchi, under a gratin-like layer of pecorino romano and a dusting of ground pine nuts. It's better than it sounds.
Pine nuts were a staple of Korea's Palace cuisine and they are found all over Ms. Yang's innovative Korean-accented menu, including the next dish we ordered—the beef ($14)— sliced impossibly thin and dusted in sweet rice flour and flash-fried. The floppy paper-thin slices are topped with pine nuts and sprouts and set in a spicy mustard sauce. While it is not as attractive to look at as most of Ms. Yang's dishes, this ugly duckling was delicious.
Main courses were just smashing—gorgeous to look at and immensely satisfying to devour. The pork belly ($24)—braised until creamy, hot, and melting—is served in a tall bowl the shape of a nun's habit, bedded on a sweet almost gingery millet risotto with white kimchi. I loved it. Then again, pork belly is a dish I rarely dislike. (My Jewish grandmothers would not be happy to read this. Luckily they don't do the interet.) Since we are on pork belly, I must also plug April Bloomfield's pork belly with chickpeas at The Spotted Pig. A totally different take on the beast's tender underbelly, but equally deserving of attention and multiple orders.
Anyway, back to Ms. Yang, her black cod ($24) actually offers a different take than the ubiquitous miso-glaze. She poaches the fish until it is soft, silky and supple, and serves it with an incredibly fluffy mustard bread pudding. It is fabulous—and it gives the sweetness of the cod the right balance of spice and heat. But the Rib Eye took the food-gasm for the evening. It was placed between Jamie and Susie and they fought over it like teenagers, each one groaning after each bite. I was having my own private moment with the pork belly but I was getting jealous. I wrangled myself a slice of super tender meat and was quite impressed. The rib eye, which is pepper crusted and deeply flavorful, is served in two wedges with what we Jews call potato kuggle—a super light savory potato soufflé that in Korea apparently goes by the term mung bean cake, this one filled up with oxtail ragout. Good stuff people.
Soon, our plates were removed, which, as usual, prompted a discussion of the meal. All of us were universally impressed. I was enchanted with the room as much as the innovative yet approachable menu. Jamie was still raving about the beef and was loving the magnificently flattering lighting. And Susie was just over the moon in love with it all. She declared: "This is now my favorite restaurant on Planet Earth." She is ready to start discovering restaurants on Mars I believe.
We only tried two desserts ($8), one of which I must add to my own personal list of favorite foods on earth—a sweet and savory "grilled cheese" made from the most buttery griddled brioche filled with melting Fourme D'Ambert, drizzled with fennel honey and served with a small frisee salad tossed with diced quince. The pear upside down cake with chili ice cream was fine—it was more like a pear muffin to me than an upside down cake. It was good, but it didn't make me swoon like that sinful grilled cheese.
I am very happy that we decided to give D'Or Ahn a try. It is a great addition to the neighborhood, and a perfect complement to the wonderful Spanish tapas offered next door at Tia Pol. Like Alex (the chef at Tia Pol), Ms. Yang is quite a talent. Her food makes you feel challenged and yet at the same time leaves you intensely comforted. It is a rare combination. Like Mani and Heather, Ms. Ahn is a beautiful and sincere restaurateur and an unbelievably generous and gracious hostess. In the all of 2000 square-feet that these two little restaurants occupy side-by-side, five unique and amazing women are blazing their own path, and along the way, opening doors to many incredible meals. They must be applauded. So applaud, please.
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