Mandu chef Danny Lee first launched his monthly pop-up series, Anju, as a way to gauge interest in a possible restaurant serving late-night Korean bar snacks. Over the course of the last nine months, a rotating cast of some of the biggest chefs in the city have joined Lee, his mom Yesoon Lee, and fellow Anju host chef Jonah Kim to make the pop-up a huge hit with lines that spill down the block.
Now, Lee is ready to begin searching for a permanent home for the concept. He'll hold the very last Anju pop-up on March 6 with restaurateurs Jeff Black (Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, BlackSalt, etc.) and Michael Schlow (Tico).
"Even though it's just one night of the month, it's turned into something way bigger than we could ever have thought it would be," Lee says.
Lee says he's taking his time looking for real estate for Anju. He hopes to land in a residential area, rather than somewhere surrounded by office buildings. Although the space will dictate the design, Lee envisions a relatively small place with bar seating that faces an open kitchen.
No, there will not be guest chefs when Anju finds a permanent space. Jonah Kim won't be involved either, because he's set to open Yona with Mike Isabella in Ballston this spring.
The menu will likely serve more traditional Korean food than some of the stuff that turned out of the pop-ups, like ramen quesadillas and kimchi bolognese. (The name "Anju" is the Korean word for the snacks that accompany drinking.) The pop-ups have forced Lee and his mom to come up with new dishes constantly. And so at the permanent Anju, they hope to change a significant portion of the menu weekly, which will leave room for creativity. "The great thing about doing something like anju is that we can also whenever we want put on a few dishes that stray a bit toward other influences," Lee says.
In addition to the snacks, Lee is looking to serve some larger entree-size dishes. The chef would like to serve a stew called samgyetang that contains a whole cornish hen stuffed with sweet rice, ginseng, dates, and garlic. Lee and his mom have also been playing with kalguksu—knife-cut wheat flour noodles—at Mandu, where it's currently a special. Lee would like to serve a rotating kalguksu entree at Anju with chicken, clams, or something else. Braised whole fish may also make the menu.
The bar will focus on fermented rice wine called makgeolli, which will be served in bowls made by Lee's mother-in-law, and soju. The house-infused cucumber soju will inevitably make its return, along with a melon variety and other seasonal flavors. There will also be cocktails.
But all of that is still a way's away. In the meantime, you can check out the last Anju pop-up at 10 p.m. on March 6 at Mandu's K Street NW location. Because of its popularity, this last event will take reservations. The first two seatings at 10 and 10:30 p.m. will be allocated hour-and-a-half slots. (Seatings beyond at 11 p.m. and beyond won't have restrictions.) You can reserve a spot by calling (202) 289-6899. Bar seating will be available first-come, first-serve.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery