Korean American darling Magpie and the Tiger didn’t pan out in Petworth last year, but its husband-wife culinary duo Caleb Jang and Roren Choi have big pivot plans for the fledgling brand. That includes roving pop-ups, collaborations, private dinners, catering, cooking classes, and even a bottled line of spicy sauces.
With help from prominent D.C. chef Kevin Tien, Jang explored his Korean roots with the early 2022 opening of Magpie and the Tiger in the storied space that housed Himitsu. The cozy, 22-seat spot for small plates lasted only seven months, leaving Jang to embark on what he calls a “period of exploration and collaboration.”
“There were a lot of creative ideas that we had, a lot of things that we really wanted to try,” says Choi, “but because of the confines of what you have to deal with like your sink breaking or your fridge going down, all of those things, there was a lot that we had to tackle before we could get anything on the menu.”
For Magpie and the Tiger’s next chapter, Jang and Choi wade into a variety of culinary waters without having a brick-and-mortar location to oversee.
The second-generation Korean American couple explores their heritage while weaving in their relationships with food here at home. They each have a decade of culinary prowess in D.C.; Jang worked with Tien at Himitsu and then honed his pastry skills at Seylou bakery, while Choi came from Michelin-starred Tail Up Goat and sibling spot Reveler’s Hour.
“We are trying to take our experience, our life experience, and really translate it through our food rather than being like ‘oh we’re being one hundred and ten percent Korean—we have to serve this, this and that,’” says Choi.
In November, Magpie partnered with local catering and events company Please Bring Chips for a month-long residency on H Street. The tasting menu featured options like rolled egg omelets with parmesan and nori, Korean rice cakes in a rosé gochujang sauce, and kimchi-wrapped pork sausages.
Their next pop-up, dubbed Boogy & Beans, is a two-day partnership with Dupont pizza joint Boogy & Peel scheduled for Wednesday, February 8 and Thursday, February 9. Named after the collaborators’ pooches, the pop-up workshops a menu where Korean flavors meet playful pizzeria fare. A sweet and sour-glazed Korean fried chicken pizza, topped with a green goddess sauce is in the works, as well as a pizza-fied version of kare pan—a deep-fried Korean bread filled with curry.
Jang and Choi see similarities in Boogy’s whimsical mashups (i.e. Big Mac and Reuben-inspired pies) and Korean pizza culture.
“Because they’re not really bound by tradition it does really remind us of how Korean pizzas are,” says Jang.
Drinks will riff on Boogy & Peel’s signature frozen beverages. Soju and honeydew-flavored Melona ice cream bars—which Choi notes are as ubiquitous in Korea as Drumstick cones are in the U.S.—will factor into a slushy. The menu will also feature Makgeolli, a milky, lightly sparkled Korean rice wine.
Jang and Choi are planning more partnerships this year with fellow D.C. chef friends, and they’re in talks about collaborations abroad in cities like Seoul and London.
The pair plans to further diversify the brand with cooking classes under the Magpie and the Tiger moniker. The brand is also noodling on a Korean-Italian pop-up, inspired by Choi’s New York upbringing, which they hope will come to fruition sometime this year.
“It is going to be kind of telling my story,” says Choi.
Like their variations on Korean-American fare, Jang and Choi’s path forward isn’t a conventional or straightforward one.
“Is there a set cookbook, like very traditional pathway for this? Absolutely not. So it’s something that we are continuously exploring,” says Choi.