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If there’s one dish that speaks to the style of cooking at Anju, opening next month, it’s yukhoe. Korea’s answer to steak tartare is typically made with raw beef, a sesame oil-based dressing, Asian pear, and an egg. “Our thought process is looking at the list of ingredients that go into a dish and then finding some method or technique we can tweak along the way to make it our own and a little more elevated,” explains Danny Lee, one of the co-owners of the Korean pub and restaurant.
The yukhoe diners will try at Anju, which translates to food that goes great with alcohol, has a few twists. Instead of using granulated sugar in the sesame dressing, Executive Chef Angel Barreto uses palm sugar to increase viscosity. He also finely dices and then freezes the Asian pear so that it slowly melts once added to the tartare mixture, keeping it cold as you eat. This strategy mimics the chill of traditional yukhoe, which often utilizes barely-thawed beef. (Some restaurants must freeze their beef because they can’t get it in fresh daily.) Barreto will also mix in sweet and spicy basil seeds and finish the dish off with grated egg yolk and crispy lotus root chips for scooping.
Anju replaces the original Mandu, which suffered a fire almost two years ago at 1805 18th St. NW. Mandu served bibimbap, chap-chae, dumplings, and sojutini cocktails for more than a decade. With Anju, Lee and his mom, Yesoon Lee, added to their team by bringing in Danny’s partners at Fried Rice Collective—Scott Drewno and Drew Kim. The trio is behind the smash hit CHIKO.
Barreto kicked off his career in D.C. under Drewno at The Source. He’ll take on his first executive chef position at Anju. “My family is in politics—I always thought I’d become a lobbyist and work on the Hill,” Barreto says. He studied international relations in college but didn’t find his calling in front of a computer, and enrolled in culinary school.
He’s particularly drawn to cooking Korean having spent time there as a child on military bases. He’ll work in tandem with Yesoon to balance traditional and modern cuisine. “She’s such a stickler about stuff and is super passionate about how it’s supposed to be done,” Barreto says. This is her family history, what she grew up eating. She wants traditions to carry on.”
In addition to the bar snacks written on a board on the first floor, Anju’s menu will have four categories: Anju, Mains, Mama Lee’s Classics, and Panchan. Find the aforementioned yukhoe in the Anju section along with other appetizers and sharable starters.
The main dishes will be headlined by ssambap (lettuce wrap) platters that showcase a protein ranging from kalbi (caramelized boneless beef short rib) and pork jowl to cobia collar. Instead of basic green leaf lettuce, the ssam platter will come with a spray of greens, herbs, and veggies such as wild sesame leaf, radishes, and cucumbers not unlike the basket you get at the start of a meal at Little Serow. Three dipping sauces will accompany platter.
Imagine the Yelp reviews if a few Mandu dishes weren’t carried over to Anju? Find some of them, such as the bibimpap, under Mama Lee’s classics. “That paid the bill for years, that one dish,” Danny jokes.
The final section, panchan, features small dishes that typically kick off a Korean meal. “We want to have eight to 10 offerings on any given day,” Danny says. Customers will have to adjust to paying for the small snacks, which usually come gratis shortly after sitting down to dine. “A lot of people, who are accustomed to a certain kind of Korean dining, will say, ‘Why are we paying for panchan?’ That’s because of the time and effort that goes into it.” Some panchan take months to prepare, according to Barreto, who has already been recipe testing various kimchi.
Combatting food waste is another reason Anju is charging for panchan. “When panchan is free, large groups ask for another round,” Danny explains. “Then you see the party leave and there are two panchan that haven’t been touched and baskets and baskets of lettuce.”
Don’t miss the radish water kimchi (dongchimi). “You’re meant to serve the radishes with the natural brine from the fermentation process,” Danny says. “The result is a really refreshing, tart, and slightly salty cold liquid.” Just like the rest of the menu, Anju twists the standard preparation. “We’re using a super traditional method my mom learned back in Korea to cure the radish, but we’re using assorted radishes like purple ninja radish, watermelon radish, and breakfast radish. The water will be slightly pink because of all of the different radishes.”
There are multiple ways to experience Anju—a strategy shared by many of the city’s most successful restaurants. Stop by the first floor bar for a rollicking night of drinking seasonally infused Korean rice wine (makkoli) from tea kettles created by beverage director Phil Anova. Choose from salty, funky bar snacks while you’re there. Or, head up to the second floor dining room for what Danny calls a “more refined” dining experience.
The dining room also has two six-person tables with induction burners that are reserved for a tasting menu experience that culminates in an oversized casserole-style dish known as jeongol. Diners can request whether they’d like a chicken, beef, seafood, or vegetarian casserole and Barreto will design the meal around the star protein.
Anju is a family affair. In addition to Danny and Yesoon working together, Natalie Park of Natalie Park Design Studio designed the restaurant. She and Danny met at Mandu and later married.
Anju, 1805 18th St. NW; anjurestaurant.com