First in mid-day: As he returns after a five-month sabbatical with his first solo project in Lower Parel that serves casual, comfort food, chef Boo Kim recalls his journey in Mumbai
Imagine a lamb shoulder that's been slow-cooked for 24 hours after sitting in an exotic spice rub for a long time, or a confit duck leg served on a bed of delicate cauliflower mash along with microgreens. It's hard to picture these images easily because, frankly, the dishes are too much. A juicy Lucy burger, on the other hand, might take less effort.
Mac and cheese roll
And notwithstanding the splendour of fine-dine cuisine, the truth is, comfort food has its own safe space in our hearts. It is naturally easier to both process and appreciate fare that is simple. And at Dirty Buns, Korean-American chef Boo Kim's first solo joint (which will be ready for diners on June 22), the menu is devoid of such punctilious fluff, with a concisely put-together offering of fun and hearty dishes.
Fried candy bao
The restaurant has a funky atmosphere, comprising a suspended disco ball, a marble community table, leather tan booths, brick exposed pillars, and neon lights.
BBQ jackfruit roll
The restaurant is a reflection of Kim, a warm and easy-going person who applies his knowledge quietly in inconspicuous ways — like by charring the lime in the crispy prawn (Rs 450) that adds an artful smokiness to the dish with every squeeze — rather than by making a big show of it. His playful demeanour transcends into his recipes, like in the lobster roll (Rs 750), made with buttery brioche rolls (courtesy chef Divesh Aswani) and an indulgent garlic butter sauce. Kim tops it with finely chopped and fried onions, a small but spectacular addition.
Or, take the Korean chicken bao (Rs 500) that features a typical Asian-style fried chicken with sesame, but which he uplifts by using bok choy kimchi instead of the regular version. And then there's a fried candy bao (Rs 500), which makes use of chocolate bars, like Snickers, that's served with banana, salted caramel and roasted peanuts, and a decadent mac and cheese roll (Rs 450), which is brimming with a wonderful smokiness. There's also a perky BBQ jackfruit roll (Rs 350) that's a riot of flavours.
He's using raita in a bao and jamun in a cocktail called purple haze (Rs 425). And that's indicative of a certain Bambaiya-ness having permeated his being. Of course, there are other things, too, that suggest he loves the city, like his ability to photo-bomb couples outside Gateway of India, and his Instagram handle, where he literally calls himself Boo Bhai. Kim finally has a stage and he's ready for the dance. But when he arrived here from Chicago four years ago to work with a reputed seafood-oriented eatery in Bandra, the story wasn't quite the same.
"I had never stepped outside of the States and when I landed here in 2015, I had no idea [of what to expect]. It was in August, so the monsoon was just about to end here, but back home it was fall, so I came with a hoodie. I landed and I was like, 'Why is it so hot?' I had two bags, a backpack and I was sweating and dripping while everyone stared at me. The person who was supposed to pick me up was an hour late, and I just stood there wiping myself with the sweater," he recalls. Then, as the months passed, this city embraced him with open arms.
"It took a long time for me to get used to it, but once I did, I realised that this is the kind of city where everyone will try to help you no matter what. Communicating used to be a little weird, but people who did speak English tried to help me as much as they could. I met people on the first few days and they invited me to eat at their homes, with their moms and grandmoms cooking the food for me. I was like, 'Wow, I don't even know you and you're making me dinner. That's fantastic,'" he shares, adding that the one thing that keeps drawing him back is Mumbai's diversity.
Last year, in September, Kim returned to the US to spend time with his family. "Working in a kitchen can be extremely stressful, and it's important to take a break. That's why you'll see chefs leaving for month-long holidays. I guess I needed five. It helped me reboot," he explains. At the time, Dirty Buns wasn't properly in the making, but the idea was there.
"I went back, spent time eating at some of my favourite places in Chicago and started writing down menus. I knew I wanted a bar with comfort food, a place where people could just come and chill. Then, the idea to play with baos and breads came. We just rolled with it and it got messier," he jokes. It explains why wet wipes are served with your meal, because to enjoy this food,
you'd have to get down and dirty.
At Dirty Buns, Trade View Building, Kamala Mills, Lower Parel.
Time 5 pm to 1 am
Catch up on all the latest Mumbai news, crime news, current affairs, and also a complete guide on Mumbai from food to things to do and events across the city here. Also download the new mid-day Android and iOS apps to get latest updates
Sign up for all the latest news, top galleries and trending videos from Mid-day.comSubscribe
Lunchbox: Sobhita Dhulipala and Shefali Shah can't get enough of Indian food