If you have lived in Bend for a while, chances are you know the name Joe Kim from his tenure as chef at 5 Fusion Sushi and Bar, or his three-time semifinalist recognition from the James Beard Foundation for Best Chef in America. Or, perhaps you are among the many who travelled from afar to try the Korean restaurant, Yoli.
Joe and his wife Laura’s simple, minimalist interior design vision comes to life when you walk through the restaurant door tucked off of Newport Avenue. When seated near a sprinkling of graceful lighting throughout the space, with elegant black painted walls stenciled with Gingko leaves, the vibe of Yoli prepares restaurant goers for the culinary experience ahead.
Yoli, which means cuisine in Korean, is open for both lunch and dinner. There was a specific idea for both meals. “Being that Korean food in Bend hasn’t really been seen on a larger scale, or on an exclusive scale like it is [at Yoli], we wanted things to be comfortable for people,” Joe Kim, co-owner and chef said. This is why he and Laura introduced the “set lunch” where diners can choose protein, rice, kimchi and banchan—small, side dishes including potatoes and sprouts—that complement the main dish. The lunch hours are supposed to be an accessible introduction to Korean cuisine both price-wise and menu-wise.
Raw dinner starters such as the Yukhoe give off a balance of savory and sweet. In one bite, the Wagyu beef, pear and wasabi creme fraîche are the main essence of the dish, followed by a natural hint of pine nut and chives. The Caviar Juk is simple in its ingredients, but the bold presentation and flavors of brown butter, smoke and truffle atop a rice cracker are a rich sampling of what to expect of the flavor profiles at Yoli. For a popular sharable starter, the Korean fried cauliflower has a shell of rice flour for a crunch, and a seasoning of gochujang, which is graceful at first, with a spice that pleasantly sneaks up behind it.
Dinners at Yoli are meant to bring a more modernized taste of Korean food to the forefront of the culinary scene. “[For] the dinner menu, we wanted to do a little more diversity and show a little more modern Korean food,” Kim said. The Kims both have extensive histories in the restaurant industry which play into the quality of food, attention to detail and overall experience. The Dolsot Bibimbap with beef is served in a stone pot so the longer the heat lingers—and the slower you eat—the crispier the rice gets. After breaking the egg and letting it soak through the rice, kimchi and fresh vegetables, a full bite of the tenderized beef from the bowl tastes like quality. “I’m a big fan of the beef dishes…” Joe Kim said, “…some are marinated, and some are just meant to highlight the flavor of the beef.” Another beef dish to try is the Kalbi steak; delicate by bite, but courageous in taste.
The culinary journey does not end there. The cocktail menu—fully developed by the front of house manager and co-owner, Laura Kim—recognizes Joe Kim’s heritage through cocktail elements such as jujube honey and Korean coffee. According to Laura, the most craveable cocktail on the menu is the Ulsan Sour, a twist on a Whiskey Sour which pays homage to Joe Kim’s family’s kiwi farm in Ulsan. The syrupy kiwi works in harmony with the orange juice to offset the strength of the whiskey.
When arriving at Yoli, the frosted doors suggest a secret hidden inside. That mystery is a ten-table restaurant brought to life by owners Joe and Laura with their extensive restaurant industry experience, and a visible passion to bring Korean food—both traditional and modern—into the spotlight of Bend’s culinary scene.