Allow us to take you on a journey to another part of the multiverse. A universe that’s pretty similar to ours, but a dinosaur ate a butterfly, events were set in motion, and now things aren’t quite the way they should be. Lebron James plays hockey. Father John Misty is in a boy band. Mark Zuckerberg runs a fashion company.
The Ice King is clearly a great athlete, but he’s just a little clumsy on skates. Father John Misty has a good voice, but he can’t nail his choreography. Zuck built an addictive shopping website, but he’s having a hard time disrupting the hoodie and gray t-shirt market from his college dorm room.
Soogil, a Korean restaurant in the East Village, also has a lot of potential, but seems to be stuck in that part of the multiverse where things aren’t exactly as they should be. The creative small plates, serious service, and casual, nondescript setting would all be OK on their own, but they don’t make sense together in the same restaurant.
Soogil’s biggest selling point is the food itself. It’s a mix of Korean and French flavors and techniques, and it’s the kind of stuff you’d want to eat on a date when you need to prove to someone that you’re interesting. We especially like the pork belly with shrimp sauce and the foie gras with berry jelly, but our favorite dishes here come from the “garden” section of the menu - like the glass noodles with bulgogi. Topping noodles with a bunch of marinated beef and putting it under the vegetable section of a menu is a practice we wholeheartedly endorse.
In the right universe, these impressive small plates would be served in a louder, darker space by servers who want you to have a great time. But Soogil’s quiet, serious setting is generally what you’d expect from a white-tablecloth restaurant that serves a prix-fixe lunch - not from a small restaurant serving innovative food in the East Village. The music is played way below Shazam-detecting levels, so first dates are probably out of the question unless you want a room full of strangers to hear about growing up in the suburbs. The limited wine options and brightly-lit space make it a strange choice for a fancy night out, but the higher prices and formal service also mean you’re not coming here for a casual dinner.
Put all these elements together and you have a perfectly good restaurant - but one that’s not really perfect for any situation. You’ll probably like everything you eat at Soogil, but your meal will be in that universe of incompatibility where Father John Misty can’t stay in sync with his backup dancers, and Zuck wants to sell you sh*tty clothes.
Sweet Potato Beignets
The balls of fried sweet potato are pretty good, but the best part of this dish is the white kimchi soup. It may change your whole outlook on cold soup. But probably not, because most cold soup is just hot soup that wasn’t good enough to finish.
We like the big pile of shaved brussels sprouts and raisins, but the slabs of soft tofu are pretty bland.
Mung Bean Pancake
If the pan-fried pancake isn’t rich enough on its own for you, this also comes with a side of pork fat. Obviously this tastes good.
This is some great foie gras. The berry jelly, which are like little cubes of Jell-O, gives it some sweetness, and the chestnuts are nice and crunchy. Put it all on the little slices of warm brioche.
Our server told us that this spicy seafood soup is one of their specialties, but we found it pretty bland each time we had it. There’s a decent amount of shrimp, squid, clams, and tofu for the price, but the broth is thin and it’s the only dish here that you can’t really share.
This is the best thing here. Smoky, rich, charred noodles with oyster mushrooms topped with a lot of bulgogi. We’re not totally sure why this is under the garden section of the menu, but we’re happy to start telling people marinated beef counts as a vegetable.
Focus on the land and garden sections of the menu, as dishes from the sea tend to be underwhelming and overpriced. This cod is no exception.
The braised pork belly and the little rolls of kimchi on their own are pretty good, but the salty shrimp sauce is great. Put it on everything.
This is an outlier amongst the good-looking small plates here. It’s a fairly large portion of chicken covered in some spices and shrimp sauce. They’re pretty messy and you’re going to need to eat them like wings at a sports bar, but the tender, slightly spicy chicken is quite good.
The soy-braised meat is tender and definitely enjoyable, but this is by far the most expensive thing on the menu, and considering the small portion, it’s not worth the price.
Korean-Style Rice Sticks
Definitely get dessert here. The Korean-style rice sticks are stacked like Jenga logs and taste like churros.