Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 7/31/17
Most Americans with a picky palette would choose to shy away from traditional Korean fare such as kimchi, made with fermented cabbage; bulgogi, which are marinated slices of beef or pork; or even sushi, which features raw fish.
However, what if that kimchi was mixed with cheese in a french fry dipping sauce? Or if that bulgogi was on a burger with a red onion pickle and jalapeno mayo? Would you try sushi if it was filled with buffalo chicken?
This is the inspiration behind Mihae Cho’s Korean eatery Roosterspin, which opened its second location July 12 at 120 Albany St. in New Brunswick following the success of its Westfield location, which opened in 2014.
“I grew up on Korean cooking and it’s my favorite cuisine, but it’s not very approachable to everyone and we wanted to put a modern spin to it,” said Cho. “When you go to a Korean restaurant, there are a lot of stews and shareable foods. That’s how we wanted to do it at Roosterspin, too.”
At Roosterspin’s Westfield and New Brunswick locations, it’s all about Korean with a twist, with dishes such as the snow corn roll with tempura shrimp, mango, cucumber, avocado and crabmeat inside and corn, black tobiko and mayo dressing outside; yuzu miso salad with mixed greens, rainbow sprout, kabocha squash, Korean crunch melon, pine nuts and yuzu-miso dressing; and the R-Waffle, made with Korean sweet rice and served with a choice of maple or fresh fruit syrups, including roasted pineapple.
Traditional Korean items are also available, including pork belly ssam with pork belly strips, garlic and Korean chili paste that guests wrap into lettuce packages, and the seafood pajeon, a traditional savory pancake made with shrimp, squid and scallion.
However, according to Cho, the real menu highlight is her Korean double fried chicken, which is fried twice in soybean oil to dissipate the fat in the skin, leaving a light, super crispy crust and a juicy meat hand brushed with rich soy garlic or spicy soy sauce.
Cho said that the chicken has been her signature since 2006, when she brought the craze to New York City via her former restaurant Mono + Mono. Following her move to New Providence, she knew it was time to bring it to New Jersey, too.
“I wanted to come back to the city life a bit once I moved to New Jersey, so three years after opening my Roosterspin Westfield location, I wanted to bring what I had offered in New York City to New Brunswick,” she said.
Both locations are similar in their industrial vibes and décor, adorned with antique, hand-strained distressed wood, Edison light bulbs and fairy lights, metals and over 7,000 LPs that will be spun by DJs at the New Brunswick location.
“We spin both our cuisine and our LPs,” said Cho.
At Roosterspin New Brunswick, there are also two karaoke rooms featuring jazz and rock music that can accommodate 25 and 10 guests, respectively. Songs are updated monthly, and rental and catering packages, as well as beer, wine and bottle service, are available.
“We don’t have a certain age group,” said Cho. “Even in karaoke, we have 7-year-old Girl Scouts up to people in their 60s having their retirement parties. That’s what I wanted to bring to New Brunswick — a place where the old can hang out with the young.”
The Westfield location can seat about 100 people and brings in about 2,000 guests weekly, and the New Brunswick location can seat about 130 people. In New Brunswick, however, the eatery plans to host more DJ nights and also has a liquor license.
The cocktail program is led by mixologists Pamela Wiznitzer and Luis Hernandez of Seamstress, an acclaimed New York City cocktail bar. Wiznitzer is also the national president of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild.
Cho said she has noticed that although New York City has taken a modern take to Korean cuisine, New Jersey’s Korean dining scene has remained much more stagnant. She said that in most Korean restaurants, 80 to 90 percent of the customers are Korean, but at Roosterspin, the opposite is true — the vast majority of her customers are diverse.
“In New York City, they are doing a lot of small tapas dishes that are very twisted,” said Cho. “There has been a lot of changes — and that’s what we are doing at Roosterspin, too.”
Where: 120 Albany St., New Brunswick