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Yoli brings Korea to the Northwest

The food scene in any city exists as something of an ecosystem. It has its own microclimates, apex predators and geographic anomalies, while still allowing for an invasive species to show up and create a bit of culinary chaos. Some restaurants have dominated the pecking order for so long that when a brash young upstart attempts to supplant the natural order it can sometimes be revolutionary, but more often than not it's a total massacre. Look how many new Indian restaurants have tried to take on Taj Palace over the years and failed miserably.

click to enlarge The banchan (small side dish) sampler at Yoli will do a dance all over your tastebuds. - JARED RASIC
  • Jared Rasic
  • The banchan (small side dish) sampler at Yoli will do a dance all over your tastebuds.

Joe and Laura Kim aren't interested in finding their own place in the ecosystem of the Bend food scene and they never have been. Instead, ever since Joe was chef at 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar and Laura was front-of-house manager, they have been expertly anticipating food trends and curating menus so diverse and fearless that they are the ecosystem. Not many people cared about fusion in Bend before 5 Fusion came to play, and now with Yoli, Bend has Korean cuisine that leaves no room for imitators.

click to enlarge JARED RASIC
  • Jared Rasic

Chef Kim has once again created a menu with such a breadth of texture and depth of flavor as to almost feel limitless. I went to Yoli (Korean for cuisine) to check out its lunch menu and was so in love that I had to come back a few days later and try the dinner menu as well. The vibe of the space is eclectic in the best way with lots of natural wood and subtle stenciling. There's a warmth to the intimate 10-seat restaurant that feels refreshing in its lack of pretension. Laura Kim told me that she and Joe knew their days in Yoli would be very long, so they wanted to create a space filled with things that made them laugh and enjoy being there. The super weird and awesome yellow shag fur circle on the wall kept drawing my eye and making me smile throughout dinner, so I think they nailed it.

Chef Kim elevates everything he touches because he isn't content to just reproduce Korean staples for a Northwestern palate; instead, he innovates and experiments in order to create dishes people will instantly connect with. His menu respects the history of Korean cuisine without being afraid of taking risks and fusing big flavors with limitless profiles. My friend and I started with the Korean fried cauliflower and Chamchi Tukhoe (tuna tartare). The cauliflower had a lovely blend of sweetness with the kick of the delicately fermented Gochujang sauce and was the perfect palate awakener. The tartare was also delicious, finding an excellent balance between the delectable raw tuna and a wasabi creme fraiche that gets out of the way of the fish and just enhances the natural richness of the flavors.

We then received a sampler of over a dozen different banchan—small side dishes— including multiple variations of kimchi, each delectable in their own ways. The pickled veggies don't lean too heavy into the spice; instead, Chef Kim seems to be more interested in enhancing the natural flavors of the vegetables. The bean sprouts were as tender as a pasta and the Oi Muchim (spicy cucumber salad) was explosive, making this banchan platter something I could see coming down to Yoli and ordering just by itself.

click to enlarge Interior of Yoli. - JARED RASIC
  • Jared Rasic
  • Interior of Yoli.

My friend ordered the 16-ounce New York steak that was on special, plated beautifully on a wooden board and sliced into a dozen thick pieces of heaven. The lean beef was flawlessly prepared and legitimately melted in our mouths, with the smokey grill on the meat giving it that Korean BBQ profile that I needed.

I went with the Dolsot Bibimbap with chicken as the protein. It comes served in a Korean stone pot with sizzling rice at the bottom that became crunchier the longer I let it sit, leading to a meal with so much texture and complexity of flavor that I want to get it again immediately. I broke the runny egg, stirred the bowl and fell in love.

click to enlarge JARED RASIC
  • Jared Rasic

For dessert, the Panna Cotta with yuja custard, fresh kiwi, crumbled honey cake, fermented honey and ice wine whip was delectable and an excellent palate cleanser.

The prices are extremely reasonable, the service was attentive without being intrusive and every dish we tried felt like an entirely fresh take on classics from the culinary scene in Bend.

While Yoli isn't the first place to step foot into the realm of Korean fusion in Central Oregon, Joe and Laura Kim are still blazing a new trail anyway. Yoli feels intensely modern, while respecting tradition and luxuriating in spontaneity. The Kims have once again reshaped what the ecosystem of food can be in Central Oregon. Now watch everyone else try and catch up.

1133 NW Wall St., Bend
Go to for reservations

About The Author

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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