Casual Korean barbecue restaurant Jjim is opening on Thursday, February 11, in the Zilker neighborhood at 1100 South Lamar Boulevard, Suite 2140, for dine-in and takeout services. The new restaurant’s name references the Korean technique of braising meat. The menu will initially feature two options: the galbi jjim (beef short ribs), and the spicy pork rib jjim. Both will be served with an array of vegetables — including shiitake mushrooms, potatoes, and shishito pepper — plus its sauce, served alongside rice and fresh geotjeori kimchi (cabbage and Asian pears). The dish can be intensified with a mozzarella cheese topping and/or glass noodles. Later on, the restaurant will offer oxtail and whole fish variations as well.
“We knew we didn’t want to open just another typical grill-at-your-table Korean barbecue concept,” explains Min Choe, the chief executive officer of Jjim’s parent company CKN Hospitality. During a trip to California where he was reintroduced to galbi jjim — a dish he recalls having when he was younger — at a San Jose restaurant where “the food was amazing, better than I had remembered.” He noted that there was a line of people waiting to get into the restaurant. He returned to Austin to present the idea to chief culinary officer and Jjim executive chef Youngmin Noh and chief operating officer Brian Kim, and “it clicked.”
The addition of mozzarella cheese made sense to the group. “We knew it was popular in California,” explains Kim, “but admittedly we were very skeptical until we tried it ourselves.” After testing the cheesy dish, they “then understood immediately that it truly elevates the experience.”
Another dish at the restaurant is the chadol baegi kimchi fried rice, made with grilled thinly sliced fatty brisket, rice that is pan-fried with caramelized kimchi, and topped with a poached egg. “It’s a combination of some of the best comfort food items in Korea,” describes Noh. The chef, who is from Seoul, South Korea, worked at New York restaurants such as two-Michelin-starred the Modern, Korean spot Hanjan, and now-closed New American restaurant Veritas. He also staged at New York's two-Michelin-starred restaurant Daniel and San Francisco's three-Michelin-starred restaurant Benu. He moved to Austin to open a restaurant with Kim.
Other dishes at the restaurant include spicy chicken dduk-galbi (Korean grilled short rib patties), seafood soondubu (tofu stew), Korean seafood and kimchi pancakes, and steamed mandu with shrimp, as well as vegan and gluten-free items like a mixed mushroom salad and fried tofu pockets stuffed with soy-marinated tofu. As for drinks, there will be beer, wine, and sake, along with cocktails such as frozen sake beverages in flavors like Asian pear pina colada and watermelon-mint.
Takeout orders for food and alcohol can be placed online. Delivery options will be added later. For dine-in service, the restaurant is taking reservations and walk-ins. For dine-in service, the restaurant will operate with counter-service ordering and quick-service with designated tables. The restaurant will also feature retail shelves with bottles of drinks and merchandise.
The group decided to open Jjim south of the Colorado River because the area, to them, “is completely devoid of any Korean-focused restaurants,” says Choe. (The nearest option is fast-casual Asian fusion restaurant Chilantro.) They had signed the lease for the space in February 2020, just before the novel coronavirus pandemic really hit.
Like Tso Chinese Delivery, Jjim is operating with a no-tipping policy. “We believe we can provide an experience without the need for an obligatory tip,” explains Choe, whose other business Tso Chinese Delivery observes the same rule. “We pay our staff fair, livable wages, who are not incentivized by tips, but instead are motivated by providing an enjoyable experience and a job well done. I also believe it promotes more of a team effort amongst the front-of-house and back-of-house members.”
CKN also operates Korean fried chicken spot Donkey Mo’s and Japanese spot Roba Katsu, stalls both found in H-Mart’s Austin food hall. Choe is also a co-founder of takeout and delivery business Tso Chinese Delivery. The group decided to work together because of “a mutual passion and desire to introduce and highlight Korean cuisine to the masses,” explains Choe.
The South Lamar address had originated as the home of New American restaurant Vox Table, which closed suddenly on Valentine’s Day in 2018. After that, it housed Italian pizzeria and restaurant Connection Pizza & Bar, whose temporary closure in September 2019 turned into a permanent one.
The Jjim space features both indoor and outdoor dining areas. The patio has expanded beyond the original footprint. There are three new murals dressing the space, done by Show Goat Mural Works artist Josh Row. The artwork features the restaurant’s mascot, the smoking tiger. The figure stems from the Korean counterpart of the English story phrase “once upon a time,” which is “a time when tigers smoked.”
Jjim’s hours will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and then from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.