We took a friend who once studied botany to the Matthei Botanical Gardens’ Bonsai exhibit. Since we were out Ann Arbor way, we decided to make a long overdue visit to a place called Miss Kim’s we’ve heard a lot about. One drawback: Our friend claimed she didn’t like Korean food. She’s a convert now.
Miss Kim’s is a spinoff from the Zingerman’s mini empire, although a bit outside the box from their regular ventures. It’s a result of Zingerman’s Path to Partnership — a program where employees can apply to create a brand using the Zingerman’s name.
Ji Hye Kim (pictured at right), is a native of Korea, and her journey to restaurant partnership was also a bit off the normal path. Kim grew up in Korea until the age of 13, when her family moved to New Jersey.
Kim relocated to take up political science and economics at the University of Michigan. Partway into her experience, money got tight so she took a job at Zingerman’s Deli, and eventually, their Roadhouse.
She finished her degree, but also started testing food concepts with the San Street cart, which landed at Mark’s Carts in Ann Arbor and Eastern Market. She also tested out popup dinners. With funding from Zingerman’s, Miss Kim’s opened in late 2016 in the former Kerrytown Bistro and then Eve.
When visiting her native country, Kim became obsessed with ancient Korean culinary traditions. “I started doing research to see what interested me.” She translated 16th and 17th century cookbooks and also studied Buddhist techniques and philosophy. The result includes the use of rice syrup and plum extracts as some of the sweeteners used at Miss Kim’s.
The menu features plates meant for sharing. We sampled the Wasabi Sugar Snap Peas and Blistered Shishito Peppers. After the Chilled Spring Asparagus Pea Jook (a soup of creamed rice, peas, asparagus, and pea shoots) we moved on to the main courses.
The Korean BBQ Ssam Plate were amazing and included a side of housemade kimchi. I’ve rarely met a scallop I didn’t like, and Kim’s Soy Butter Scallops (pictured above) didn’t disappoint.
Miss Kim’s goes off the beaten path in another way with a “no-tip” policy. Kim says it fosters a collaborative, relaxed atmosphere among staff. Most customers get it. “It’s really funny, but friends from the [restaurant] industry are the ones most weirded out.” (Our party included.) Servers make $13-$14 an hour.
And the prices are not elevated so much that diners notice. “We crunched the numbers six different ways,” Kim says. “The numbers make sense.” And after our first taste of her fare, another visit to Miss Kim’s makes sense, as well.
415 N. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-275-0099. L&D Tues.-Sun.