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  • Restaurants
  • East Village
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: Courtesy of Ariari

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Self-billed as "Busan to New York" in the East Village.

The text messages started the day before, as they always do. I’d finally landed a reservation at Ariari, the new Korean restaurant from Hand Hospitality, the group behind top restaurants Little Mad, one of my picks for the best openings of 2021, and Atoboy, high on my list of NYC’s overall greats. Ariari debuted in the East Village at the end of last year, and it took me until this summer to land a convenient reservation, this one the infrequent fruit of a Resy notification. 

This communiqué, however detailed several totally reasonable and not at all unprecedented house policies (don’t be too late, don’t double your party size, don’t cancel at the last minute unless you want to pay a comparatively reasonable $10 per person fee, don’t overstay your welcome) in addition to the more standard confirmation request. There were a few caps. Fair enough. I don’t see anything similar scrolling back through the last 24 months of reminders, but fair enough. 

But then, about 45 minutes before my designated arrival, as I chatted on a rooftop farther uptown, another message, “Your table is available now if you would be interested in dining with us sooner. Please text us back to confirm!” Then, relocated to a hot subway platform but with plenty of time to spare, the standard 30-minute warning, before, “Hello, this is ARIARI Restaurant. We are holding your table up to 15 mins after your reservation time. Please text us back if you are running late!,” which I wasn’t, but now felt like I was, the accumulated notification combining to leech the ease with which I wish to enter every restaurant, especially those I’m set to review, each ping thickening the early evening humidity and seeming to slow my every stride from the F at Second Avenue like a hypergravity stress dream.  

Inside, Ariari is the antidote to those missives. It is efficiently packed but comfortable enough, and peacefully lit to a near dim with pleasant energy that seems to exclaim “Oh hey, you made it!” as though the multitude of previous paragraphs never happened. The incongruity is a jarring relief, and cocktails like the light maesil (soju, green plum, Suze, peach lemon, $14) and, once you’ve cooled off, more robust dae-chu (jujube-infused rye, simple syrup, orange bitters, $15) further take the edge off. 

Excellent complimentary kimchi—crisp and bright—begins the path through Ariari’s menu. It’s a hard-to-choose-your-own adventure with mostly right turns, divided into categories like shareables and mains, which could easily be swapped. From the first, the seafood pancake ($16) if a regal golden-brown, bursting with minced mussels, shrimp and calamari, plus specks of Thai basil and Korean chives. It is delectably a little greasy outside, fluffy inside and buoyant with its trio of seafood. 

The fried section’s soft shell crab ($18) is a textbook success with the expected dual riffs on crispness from the outside in and properly juicy at the center. Its zippy accompanying yuza scallion aioli helps set it apart from any other late August offering if only a bit. 

Detours from the road here are minor. Among those mains, the duck bulgogi ($26) seems to have been fired a moment too long, its thinly sliced protein losing its typical waterfowl character. That it’s still basically tasty is a credit to its nearly sweet, slightly garlicky marinade, tangle of properly tender onions and chives and vivacious chojang-perilla dip. An easily corrected near-miss like this might go less noticed elsewhere, but Ariari sets a higher bar. 

The spicy pork with fried squid entrée ($25) and the rice and noodle column’s dolsot al-bap ($19) are marvelous examples of what the kitchen can do. The former’s perfectly pan-seared swine masterfully mingles with its fried companion for a texture triumph laced with celery’s ribbons of freshness. The latter’s an airy-rich, winning mix of fish roe, sea urchin cream and egg, stirred tableside to reveal rice beneath and incorporate all the gently saline, briny flavors. 

Service is swift without feeling rushed, so I was surprised when given a 40-minute warning toward the end of the dinner, not only that I had been given a 40-minute warning, as these things are enforced far less frequently than they are asserted, but that only 65 minutes of my two-top’s allotted 105 had passed, considering how many terrific things we had tasted in such a brief space. To poetic amusement, we still waited a little longer for the check than I’d have hoped, but that’s an old dining trope practically anywhere. But by the time I’d paid, we were still ahead of the deadline, but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. 


The Vibe: Inviting and busy—most who enter are greeted with a group cheer—but still with nicely-paced service in spite of the crowd. 

The Food: Billed as “Busan to New York,” with standouts like the seafood pancake, soft shell crab, spicy pork with fried squid and dolsot al-bap. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, sool, wine and beer. 

Ariari is located at 119 1st Avenue. 

Amber Sutherland-Namako
Written by
Amber Sutherland-Namako


119 1st Avenue
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