Years ago, while studying biology in South Korea, Soogil Lim happened upon a sign outside a restaurant that read, “Make People Happy.” The simple command sparked a journey that would eventually lead Lim to culinary school in the US and through some of the most respected kitchens in New York City.
In January, those many years of hard work and training at last paid off when Lim, a Roosevelt Island resident since 2010, opened his namesake restaurant, Soogil. Located in the East Village, the intimate restaurant seats 40 and offers a modern, French-inspired take on Korean food.
Soogil Lim outside his namesake restaurant. Photo by Michael Tulipan
I arrived at Soogil on a Tuesday evening, a day typically quiet in the restaurant industry, to find a full house. Lim has created a tapas-style menu and recommends two or three items per person to share. So, naturally, I ordered four. My dinner began with sweet potato beignets – a French pastry made from deep-fried choux dough – served with a chilled white kimchi soup. The beignets were light and soft and perfectly paired with the slightly spicy and crunchy soup.
I continued with a mung-bean Korean pancake; glass noodles, traditionally known as japchea, with vegetables, oyster mushrooms, and bulgogi (Korean grilled steak); and spicy soft tofu with a spicy seafood broth. I had no room to enjoy a dessert, but I hear that the Korean-style rice stick, served with seven-grain powder and gelato, and the passionfruit tart are must-haves.
The restaurant hadn’t yet received its liquor license at the time of my visit, but did offer a creative non-alcoholic drink menu. Lim’s wife, Sasook, who handpicked the restaurant’s elegantly modern decor, says they should receive the license any day now.
Left: sweet potato beignets with chilled white kimchi soup. Right: spicy soft tofu with a seafood broth. Photos by Michael Tulipan
The couple moved to Roosevelt Island in 2010, shortly before the birth of their son, Alex. They say they were seeking a safe area to raise a family with a good commute. They also appreciate the Island’s open space.
“There a lot of parks for kids to play in and many sports facilities,” says Chef Lim. He is hopeful that the Island’s growing population will help support more business in the future. “I think Roosevelt Island community is getting bigger after Cornell Tech moved in. The area needs more variety in its restaurant scene.”
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Lim began his training in French cuisine at Daniel on the Upper East Side, which is owned and run by celebrity French chef Daniel Boulud, New York’s longest-reigning four-star chef.
Working alongside Boulud, Lim eventually became Daniel’s first Korean sous-chef. After leaving Daniel, Lim spent four years as the executive chef at Hanjan, a restaurant specializing in modern Korean cuisine, located in the Flatiron district.
Located at 108 East 4th Street, Soogil is easy to get to from Roosevelt Island. Simply take the F train to the Second Avenue stop, and it is located a short five minute walk north. The restaurant opens for dinner at 6:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They accept reservations up to 45 days in advance through Resy.com. Soogil: 646-838-5524, www.soogil.com.