Depending on who you ask, you’re a New Yorker once you’ve lived here three years. Some say three months. Some probably have other determinants, all fairy arbitrary. But I say it’s a soon as you WANT to be one. I’ve been living in New York City for over a decade and I still claim Portland, Oregon provenance. It’s a connection with the territory that runs as deep as the roots of a Douglas fir. So when I saw a sprightly green and yellow Oregon flag pinned prominently on a newly erected outdoor dining shed in Chelsea, I knew I had come across some native brethren.
Mista Oh is a relatively new Korean bistro on West 24th Street, opened up by the Oh family. (The O in Oregon and Oh are merely convenient coincidences, but reinforce nicely the overall theme of the place.) Mista Oh is what the patriarch of the family goes by, and he is joined in this venture by his wife, Mia, daughter Holly and son Suby. The whole family is charming, and their enthusiasm and graciousness comes through in the details of the eatery.
The restaurant came about as a pandemic-inspired solution to create a source of income for the family, and something they could do together as a whole. Holly had moved to New York for a job opportunity, and and met her New Jersey-native husband, David Diamond.
When the economy took a downturn, the Oh family decided to open a restaurant, inspired by Suby’s fifteen years of culinary experience including studies at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland. He has created a menu combining family recipes and traditional delicacies from Busan, South Korea’s second most populous city, and a booming seaport. Consequently, and because Mista Oh (the father) is an avid fisherman and loves fish, the menu features wonders like a savory seafood pancake and extravagant Spicy Monkfish Haemool Jim, braised with bean sprouts and vegetables.
Suby prefers BBQ, so that too is well represented with meaty classics like Bulgogi and Galbi, some of the most popular items on the menu. Mia prefers dishes from the garden, like the Bibimbap (a classic Korean rice dish) and Japchae (slippery glass noodles with vegetables). Holly loves soups and stews, like a spicy beef Yukgae Jang, and Kimchi JJigae, rich with pork. Since the family’s tastes are so diverse, the menu offers a vast spectrum for diners as well, whether vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or full-blown meat heads.
The whole restaurant came together in just six months, in part due to pandemic-fueled necessity, and also because the family kept things relatively simple. They opened on December 7, 2020, and with all the stipulations and technicalities of PPP loans and small business assistance programs, they unfortunately did not qualify for any support. There have been all the pandemic- and weather-related snafus that New York City restaurants are dealing with, but is even more difficult for newcomers to navigate. On Valentine’s Day, Mista Oh was busy with over fifty guests, but on nights like that economy-squashing snowstorm, they had to remain thankful for the three takeout orders to fulfill.
So they are running a tight ship, and keeping things in the family (although they have been able to hire a handful of employees now as staff). Holly designed the charming outdoor shed that initially caught my attention. It is festooned with fairy lights and Oregon paraphernalia, including a vibrant University of Oregon flag and the state’s signature license plates. Diamond works in finance, and having lived in the city for a decade was able impart some guidance as a “local.” The couple was always enamored of the Chelsea/Flatiron districts, so when they came upon this cozy little nook it just felt right.
But they miss Oregon. And trust me: I know the feeling. Just coming across that shed with and all of its Oregonness evoked a surge of nostalgia so strong I had to stop in my tracks. And make a reservation for dinner.
41 West 24th Street