The jump from ghost kitchen outfit on Curry Ford Road to elegant eating house in Winter Park is the culinary equivalent of dunking from the free-throw line. It's a feat the ballers from Doshibox Korean Kitchen — Gene Kim and chef bros Mike and Ray Gillette — pulled off with an assist from restaurateurs Johnny and Jimmy Tung. The result? A modern Korean restaurant à la NYC stalwarts Atomix, Ataboy, Jungsik, Jua and the like.
Doshi, as it's now called, only offered a multicourse chef's tasting experience ($175) when it opened in the Whole Foods plaza in July, presenting fussed-up and fancy fare led by Rikku Ó'Donnchü, the journeyman chef who's revolved through the doors of three different restaurants this year — Amorette in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (closed), Immersion at London House (also closed) and Doshi. While the fare was ambitious and theatrically plated, the flavors seemed a bit forced, and rooted more in a broader West-meets-pan-Asian spectrum than notably Korean.
Ó'Donnchü has since parted ways with the restaurant, leaving chef's tasting duties to Michael English, an alumnus of Immersion and Ava, and the dining room menu to Ray Gillette. It's all overseen by the watchful eye of Kim, a second-gen Korean American and creator of the Doshibox concept, with Top Chef winner Hung Huynh lending his expertise. A case of too many cooks in the kitchen? Perhaps, but it all seems to be clicking. Kim and English have brought an intentional focus back to reimagined Hanguk cuisine beyond gochujang drizzles and kimchi ornamentation. Interesting side notes: Huynh hired English at Ava before he left his post as executive chef of the Park Avenue hotspot; and English developed a real passion for Korean cuisine through his Korean girlfriend.
That same focus has been applied to the recently released dining room menu where small bites, skewers and mains are appropriately priced, spiced and, in the case of uni and scallop bibimbap ($24), riced. Getting scorched rice kernels (nurungji) with every bite (kkaemulda) was simply awesome (daebak)! There was octopus in it too, but the egg and uni is what really had us luxuriating in this very rich, must-order dish. Another must: chicken meatballs ($8). Huynh's recipe is a simple one — leg meat, salt, pepper, water and a bit of olive oil. The meat is minced, rolled, bashed and poached to create orbs that are tender and buoyant after being grilled over binchotan coals. Soy and black pepper season the meatballs served skewered over a scallion sauce.
There may be room for some sauce innovation, as that same sauce came splattered beneath beautiful binchotan-grilled eggplant ($6) specked with crispy garlic and slicked in a glaze of doenjang (fermented soybean paste), as well as the doenjang pork belly ($9) mizzled with ssamjang, the spicy paste of fermented soybeans and chilies. The glaze on the spicy shrimp ($10) is inspired by buldak, the popular Korean hot chicken. Infernal? Not quite, but the shrimp were absolute fire.
In between bites of everything and sips of soju, complimentary banchan were presented in wee bowls, the best of which were the kimchi (it takes Kim a week to prep it) and the fiery radishes pickled in beet juice. Slightly larger "banchan bites," like crispy brussels sprouts ($8) shimmered in honey and soy and vivified with calamansi and goji berry, are also worth indulging in. Yes, Doshi's food shines, sometimes literally. Even a tepid broth teeming with ginkgo nuts, kohlrabi and carrots couldn't stop us from reveling in slices of beer-braised wagyu galbi jjim ($34). Sapporo Black beer, Asian pear and citrus are what make the luscious Australian beef all the more luscious.
If there is a knock against Doshi, it's that the decor seems incomplete. I'm no interior designer, but some blinds or drapes on the windows near the entrance and side door would do wonders. The sight of Nordstrom Rack's marquee and the glare of headlights from cars in the parking lot tend to divert attention away from the restaurant's attractive and moody minimalism. There's also a dull sterility to the look of the open kitchen, but hey, at least there's no shortage of cooks to keep one captivated.
I can't talk about the interior without mentioning the dramatically lit Boy Kong mural depicting a tiger and magpie among pines. As I stared at the faces of these Korean symbols of good fortune and protection, they seemed to say one thing: Feast your eyes on the food.
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