The differences between Moim and its Park Slope neighbors begin at the restaurant’s window. Beside the gaudy awning of an old Mexican eatery is the large front window of this new Korean cafe, its panes covered with a screen of dark wooden slats. From the street, the unique front lends a sense of mystery. And if you peer inside during the day, a room unfolds that is as serene as a lake in the early morning hours, with curved pieces of dark wood forming a subtle wave pattern over a wall of shale colored bricks. Following that undulating surface, the eye is drawn to a room where tables face a quiet garden.
At night, music hums in the background and this tranquil space takes on the buzz of friendly conversation.
Moim [pronounced MO-EEM], which is Korean for “gathering,” opened in June. The restaurant is the first venture for its owner-chef Saeri Uyoo Park, who often pops back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room where she greets diners warmly while surveying the service with a critical eye.
She needn’t worry.
Still in its infancy, the kitchen is clicking along, putting forth carefully prepared and plated dishes with just enough time for a breather between courses.
The waitstaff has an endearing blend of professionalism and effusiveness. Our server nodded enthusiastically when we ordered the scallion and seafood pancake called “pajun.”
“You know how sometimes it’s really heavy and greasy?” he asked. “It’s not like that at all here.”
He was correct. This scallion pancake was an altogether different creation than Korea Town’s coarser, oilier versions. The thin disc studded with soft, small shrimp and scallop pieces resembled a round of lace cross-hatched with bright scallion greens. It was delicate with hits of the sweet, briny shellfish. My husband and I gobbled it up in what seemed like seconds.
That pancake is an example of Park’s aesthetic. The chef has worked with top talent such as Gray Kunz at Cafe Gray, Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Spice Market, and in the kitchen of the Modern at MoMA. Her experience shows in the refined rendering of her modern Korean fare.
Several “ban chan,” or little side dishes, are standard pre-meal offerings in traditional Korean eateries. Park offers just three “nibble plates” that, instead of bombarding the palette, teases it into a receptive mood. On this night, the dishes, which change each evening, included tender and chewy black beans with a sweetness like caramel, and spicy “kimchi,” the marinated cabbage, its heat turned down a notch or two.
“Dub bu kimchi” offers the cabbage stir-fried and tossed with tender pieces of pork. This mix is spooned over silky pieces of warm tofu, each cube scattered with black sesame seeds that glitter like tiny jet beads. The dish is a wonder of chewy and smooth textures, the bite of the vegetable and delicacy of the soy.
Spicy Korean meatballs or “dong gu rang ddang” were messy, two-bites of pleasure. Mixed into the beef were bits of tofu that lightened the meat while scallions added their bitter, grassy notes.
The one disappointing dish of the evening was “sook ju na mul,” or sauteed bean sprout salad. While the sprouts were cool and crunchy, they lacked flavor.
We ordered the “dol sot bi bim bop” and watched as a hot stone bowl, or “dol sot,” on a wooden pedestal arrived at our table. Inside was a layer of rice that became crisp at the bottom as it cooked. We mixed the crunchy shards of the grain with strips of sizzling “bul-go-ki” (marinated flank steak) and a crown of julienned, sauteed carrots, zucchini, spinach and Korean radish. Like the dishes that preceded it, the blend of rough and smooth, sweet and sour, mild and hot flavors was arresting.
We lingered over an entree of “un dae gu,” black codfish filet with brittle skin and a silky interior. A mild sauce brightened with Korean red pepper and the fresh summery flavor of stir-fried cucumber balanced the lush fish.
Two desserts define the yin and yang of the dessert roundup: A poached Asian pear and two slices of chocolate “pave.” Spread across the plate like a delicate golden fan, the fruit’s slices retained some of their crispness. We dipped the spoon into the marinade, and inhaled the perfume of star anise, cinnamon and vanilla. Two coal-colored slices of chocolate, their dense texture relieved by bits of crisp chestnuts, were as deep and rich as a bittersweet truffle.
Let’s welcome this newcomer to Seventh Avenue and hope more chefs with impeccable taste and cooking chops following her lead.
Moim (206 Garfield Pl. at Seventh Avenue in Park Slope) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $16-$20. The restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays. Subway: F to Seventh Avenue. For information, call (718) 499-8092 or visit www.moimrestaurant.com.