D.C. has seen an influx of Asian cuisines in recent years with Lao, Filipino, Malaysian, and Burmese spots opening across the city. But somewhat paradoxically, one of the region’s largest Asian communities’ cuisines has yet to make major headway within city limits. Most of the area’s Korean cooking still requires a trip out to the suburbs, but Chef Danny Lee of Mandu, CHIKO, and Anju has been on a steady mission to introduce new aspects of Korean food to Washingtonians. He did that with bar snacks at his latest venture, Anju. Now he and his Anju team are turning their attention to Korean pastry by launching a collaboration with Annandale-based bakery O Bread.
Bakeries are ubiquitous in Seoul. They serve similar purposes as coffee shops in the U.S., providing opportunities to socialize over coffee and pastries, albeit with K-Pop playing over the speakers instead of Michael Bublé. Korean pastries, however, are unlike anything you’re likely to find in D.C. Hewing closely to Parisian-style pastries, Korean baked goods tend to be lighter and less sweet than American desserts and are often filled or topped with distinctly Korean ingredients. Walk into any Korean bakery and you’re likely to be greeted by meticulous shelves of wicker trays filled with things like pat bbang (red bean-filled sweet bread), soboro (streusel bread cookie), loaves of milk bread, and glutinous rice donuts, all neatly and individually wrapped in plastic.
Lee says he and Anju Executive Chef Angel Barreto have wanted to introduce these pastries to the District since the restaurant opened. Lee’s mother, Yesoon Lee, is friends with the owners of O Bread, Young Il and Eun Joo Yu, and had even arranged for some of their pastries to be served at a party at Mandu prior to O Bread’s opening. As Anju is poised to launch its brunch program, Lee thought it would be a perfect time to revive their partnership.
The “O” in O Bread stands for organic. It’s not uncommon for the numerous near-identical bakeries in towns like Annandale to work through a central commissary kitchen that produces and packages products for them. O Bread stands out by baking all of their pastry fresh daily, which is why orders will need to be placed ahead of time once Anju launches their pick-up only brunch this Sunday.
O Bread will be contributing a variety of pastries, including green tea soboro, house made Choco Pie, hodugwaja (chestnut cookies), as well as loaves of milk bread that Barreto will be using to make breakfast sandwiches.
Barreto is putting Korean BBQ staple samgyeopsal (thin sliced grilled pork belly), cheese, and an omelet in between toasted slices of O Bread’s milk bread. A vegetarian option replaces the pork with shiitake mushrooms. An egg salad sandwich will also be offered.
Because it’s brunch, Anju Bar Manager Phil Anova is riffing on a Bloody Mary, but Anova is wary of taking the route of making anything Korean by “just throwing kimchi in it.” Instead, Anova’s Bloody Mary incorporates ssamjang (a Korean sauce made from fermented soy and chilies) with the rim lined with sesame oil and dipped in granulated honey that yields a funky, complex flavor. Anova is also offering strawberry lychee lemonade with vodka and a melon cooler with soju—both of which can be made without alcohol.
O Bread’s offerings along with Anju’s brunch starts this weekend. Order online Thursdays through Sundays, then pick up on Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. If you can’t make it out to Annandale, this will be your best opportunity to experience what Korean high schoolers do every day after school while watching loops of BLACKPINK videos.
Anju, 1805 18th St. NW; (202) 845-8935; anjurestaurant.com