With Miss Kim, Zingerman’s Community of Businesses has introduced a unique star into its constellation: a Korean restaurant housed in a bright white renovation of its former event space in Kerrytown. If an Asian restaurant seems a far-flung departure for the alliance, Ji Hye Kim, in an interview in the January-February issue of Zingerman’s newsletter, details her nearly decade-long journey from retail deli worker to San Street cart purveyor to Miss Kim’s managing partner. Clearly, this is a restaurant long considered and carefully planned.

Kim might suggest, however, that the place hasn’t yet completed its incubation. Although Miss Kim has been open for three months, the sign posted on the door still announces a”soft opening,” a gambit used by businesses to launch quietly, or to unveil experimental tactics with less fanfare and stress than a highly publicized grand opening. When I asked Amos Arinda, a manager, about the sign, he explained that they’re using the tag to signal that details such as menu items and lunch hours may change. Miss Kim’s grand opening, a hostess told us, will probably be in April or whenever they unveil the spring menu.

Kim plans to change the menu seasonally, inspired by and interpreting traditional Korean and other Asian dishes within the context of what’s available locally. As expected from a Zingerman’s enterprise, we found the food consistently of high quality, carefully prepared, and often delicious.

Small plates make up the bulk of the menu, but they can be fairly substantial, particularly with a side of rich soy-butter rice. (The kitchen enhances purchased soy sauce with additional flavorings and seasonings and stirs it into the short-grain rice, along with generous lashings of Calder Dairy butter.) At the absolute top of the delicious meter stand the pristine shucked oysters, exquisitely garnished with slivers of Korean pear and alternating herbs and citrus. Another is the sauteed Brussels sprouts, slick with a funky-sweet fish sauce caramel and dusted with peanuts and cilantro. A sublime combo of chewy rice cakes–the batons sauteed to a crispy edge–savory pork belly, fiery Korean chili sauce, a soft-boiled egg, and shredded scallions left my husband and me in happy tears. After a big evening of drinking and dancing, a restorative order of Miss Kim’s chicken jook, a rotating choice of grain porridge, put a savory and satisfying lid on any potential hangovers. And we enjoyed a light, refreshing lettuce salad, accented with peppery watercress and radish slices, Korean pear, peanuts, and soy vinaigrette.

As a huge fan of San Street’s steamed buns and banh mi sandwiches–I thought they were the best in town–I found Miss Kim’s buns a bit of a letdown. While retaining my favorite versions–the pork belly and the mushroom–and still starting with the same delicious house-made rolls, Kim has reduced the size and tucked the fillings neatly into the folds, rather than spilling out in messy profusion. Whether because of the greater bread ratio or an actual recipe change, neither filling seemed as compelling as before.

As for other small plates, my husband declared that the fried tofu, glazed with a spicy-sweet soy and vinegar sauce, had the disconcerting texture of a Hostess Twinkie, silky in the center and spongy on the edges. I’m not sure I agreed, but I was also not sure what the side slaw added to the dish. We both agreed the Vietnamese-style meatballs reminded us more of southern barbecue than southeast Asian, a positive or a negative, depending on your druthers.

Entrees come with a refillable trio of changing banchan, the traditional Korean side dishes. While these are usually a highlight at Korean restaurants, of the seven we tried, only two stood out: the daikon and Napa cabbage kimchis.

Of the four entrees available during our visits, we enjoyed the sauteed Spanish mackerel, lightly but beautifully enhanced with ginger, soy, and scallion. Roasted baby back ribs were tender and flavorful, as was the fried chicken, but both seemed more workmanlike than inspired; neither made us want to leap up with joy. And the dolsot bi bim bab, ordered twice, was twice a real disappointment. Capped with a raw egg yolk to stir into the dish, the bi bim bob came to the table lukewarm both times, without the toasted rice typically found at the bottom of the stone bowl, and cloaked with insipidly flavored beef and vegetables. The house-made gochujang (chili pepper condiment) on the side, though, was terrific, much darker and more intense and complex than the bottled variety.

Desserts are from Zingerman’s Bakehouse or Creamery. Go for the grapefruit tart; it’s a perfect antidote to all the garlic and chili you’ve just eaten.

Also terrific, or at least interesting to this customer, is the no-tipping/sustainable wage policy Kim has embraced at the restaurant. (Menu prices also include tax.) It’s a practice that has met with mixed reactions at the few restaurants around the country that have tried it. The necessarily higher menu prices confuse and alarm customers and confound their assumed ability to reward exceptional servers or chasten bad ones. Servers, particularly at high-end restaurants, often find their take-home pay reduced, though kitchen employees are generally pleased with slightly higher wages. But the equity of paying everyone in an enterprise a reasonable and commensurate wage seems a laudable goal, despite the tediousness of producing a menu whose prices must reflect the aggregate of all food, labor, and overhead costs.

No one at Miss Kim, Arinda told me, makes less than $12 or $13 an hour, with $15 the most typical, and higher wages for those with bigger responsibilities and longer service. To me, the totals on my credit card slips seemed reasonable, and I loved simply scrawling a signature.

Frankly, I was not impressed by my first visits to Miss Kim. Though I enjoyed the skillful redesign of the limited space, the friendly service, and the no-tip policy, I had expected a more exciting, less tepid menu execution from the author of San Street. The extensive and lengthy planning process seems to have constrained Kim and her crew, making them overly cautious–the baby steps suggested by “soft opening” rather than the ambitious leaps of a well-prepared and self-confident entrepreneur. But by my fourth meal, I was becoming hooked, particularly by Brussels sprouts and rice cakes. I’m crossing my fingers that Kim, as she moves forward, sheds some of her reticence and boldly marries imagination and inspiration with her planning and preparation.

Miss Kim

415 N. Fifth Ave.



Tues.-Sat. 5-10 p.m., Sun. 5-9 p.m. Closed Mon.

Small plates $4-$21, entrees: $18-$30 (tax and tip included)

Handicapped friendly