White Tiger, a Vanderbilt Avenue hotspot-in-the-making from chef Liz Kwon and Chelsea Altman, the owner of a host of neighborhoody spots around Brooklyn including Allswell in Williamsburg, doesn’t have a lot of competition in Prospect Heights, or beyond. The restaurant, which opened earlier this fall, seems determined to prove that it’s more than just the only Korean spot around. Prioritizing the inventive over the homestyle, White Tiger eschews tradition and aims to please a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood above all. If Kwon’s menu is somewhat hit or miss, White Tiger–named for the national animal of Korea–is still a solid choice for a memorable night out.
This is in no small part due to the strong–in more ways that one–cocktail list: The namesake White Tiger ($9) is a tropical take on a margarita with coco lopez and red chili. The Southie ($10) is reminiscent of a dark and stormy with lemongrass ginger syrup, and The Citrus Moon ($11) is a perfectly sweet and unusual blend of flavors (moonshine, rice wine, chamomile) that balance each other beautifully. The Naughty Kimchi, an interpretation of a Bloody Mary, is the only cocktail misfire: It’s just too thin and watered down, and leaves you wanting a great version of a kimchi Bloody Mary, which sounds delicious.
On to the food. The menu is divided into snacks, small plates and big plates, as seems to be the custom in most new restaurants these days, but some of the small plates could be entrees. Skip the uninspiring seasonal kimchi to save room for these larger portions. The anchovy fried rice ($10) is spicy and delicious (and generous with the anchovies). The star of the small plates is the jaeyook “gnocchi” ($14)–pan-fried rice cakes sautéed with spicy lardons. The color, flavor and oiliness recall a trip to Flushing’s Chinatown; it’s an intense dish that might alienate just a few while appealing to the majority. Again, this is a big portion for a so-called small plate and somewhat heavy, so sharing or ordering as your main dish is advised.
Among the mains, go for the Korean fried chicken with pickled daikon and jalapeños ($18); and definitely don’t skip the dol sot bibimbap ($17), a very tasty rice dish served in a large hot stone bowl with vegetables, beef, and a fried egg, all nicely arranged for a lovely presentation. Be warned though, this dish is hot as all get out and seems to continue to cook after it arrives. Our waiter suggested mixing the over-easy egg into the rice to cool it down and give it a creamier texture (bibimbap roughly translates to “mixed rice”). I might even recommend ordering it as a starter for the whole table to share and ordering smaller plates for mains. The way the menu is structured invites a lot of mixing and matching trial and error, and White Tiger feels like the kind of place you have to visit a few times before you hit your personal sweet spot of favorite dishes.
White Tiger’s interior is a familiar canvas of cozy, wood-paneled comfort electrified with bright aquas and pinks, with pleasantly kitschy pop art on the walls. An open cabinet is stocked with spam (yes, Koreans have a deep appreciation for Spam) and pickled vegetables. Mismatched hanging lamps hover above tables made from unfinished wood. The long benches that make up much of the seating could stand to be a little sturdier: A diner settling in at a neighboring table can unknowingly set off a small earthquake. The cozy space fills up quickly during busy times and when all the barstools are full it can begin to feel cramped. But it’s a perfect spot for a cocktail during off hours. For dinner, reservations are recommended, especially on the weekends.
601 Vanderbilt Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11238
Phone: (718) 552-2272
Hours: Mon-Th 5m.–11pm