Chefs Kevin Tien and Caleb Jang are essentially ready to unveil their anticipated Korean-American venture in the storied Petworth space that housed their former workspace, Himitsu. But due to rising uncertainties around the Omicron variant, Magpie and the Tiger’s 22-seat dining room will remain dark in lieu of a new takeout-friendly menu to start.
Magpie and the Tiger opens Wednesday, January 5, with Tien’s Sichuan-style spicy chicken sandwiches and other fiery favorites born out of his Hot Lola’s food stall in Ballston Quarter. Takeout and delivery will run from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (828 Upshur Street NW).
Come Wednesday, January 12, a casual, family-style hybrid of Magpie and the Tiger’s menu will join the mix for dinner. Jang’s to-go opening menu stars nostalgic Korean-Chinese dishes like veggie steamed buns and sweet-and-spicy garlic fried chicken.
“Whenever I’d go out to Korean-Chinese restaurants our family would get that all the time,” says Jang, a Korean-American who grew up in Chicago, El Paso, Texas, and Northern Virginia.
Other highlights off Magpie’s temporary takeout lineup include jjajangmyeon (black bean sauce noodles with pork, zucchini, onion, garlic, and cabbage) and a marshmallow-filled yellow cake covered in dark chocolate.
The to-go residency will stick around until Saturday, February 12, or around the same time D.C. will require proof of a second COVID vaccine shot in order to dine indoors.
That’s when Magpie and the Tiger hopes to open true to form, as a sit-down destination for Jang’s creative fusion dishes rooted in Korean ingredients and techniques to go along with low-ABV cocktails at the bar. The brand is inspired by the popular motif in Korean folk art, as well as South Korea’s national animal, so look for plenty of playful odes to tigers across the renovated restaurant.
For now, Magpie and the Tiger’s pandemic placeholder menu conveys the team’s mood, with a tagline “omicron pivot edition” and image of its namesake mascot getting a fast noodle fix.
“It’s the like Friends episode when Ross is moving the couch and yelling ‘pivot’ and losing his mind,” says Jang.
“As the weeks progress we hope there will be better news on the COVID front and as we get closer we will have a better idea on how want to move forward,” says Jang.
That means the takeout model could be extended if need be.
When Magpie and the Tiger finally debuts dine-in service, Jang will simultaneously roll out a polished Korean-American menu he perfected at home during the pandemic (see below). Look for crispy kimchi pancakes; dry-aged Spanish mackerel with grated daikon, wasabi, and lemon; and delicate red snapper crudo dressed with chili, ponzu, white soy, and lime.
Jang most recently worked at Moon Rabbit, the Wharf’s acclaimed modern Vietnamese restaurant led by Vietnamese-American chef Tien.
“Whether we tap into Vietnamese [cuisine], or in this case Korean, we are inspired by but not set or restricted by boundaries,” Tien tells Eater.
Magpie and the Tiger, situated in the former address of Eater D.C.’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year Himitsu, marks the pinnacle of a longstanding relationship between the two chefs. When the space serendipitously went up for lease during the pandemic, its founding partner Tien says he didn’t think twice about snapping it up and looping in Jang. The duo also cooked under the same roof at Asian eateries Momofuku and Emilie’s.
For their homecoming project at Magpie and the Tiger, Tien takes a welcome back seat in the kitchen.
“This is Caleb’s story to tell and I am here to support him,” says Tien. “If he needs a dishwasher I’ll be up there washing dishes.”
Here’s a look at Magpie and the Tiger’s finalized menu, which which go live in tandem with sit-down service in mid-February: