Right at the beginning of last summer, chef Jae Lee went to work in the kitchen in the back of Black Emperor, a fairly nondescript bar in the East Village. He called his pop-up there "Him," the Korean word for strength, with a short menu that consisted of classic bar food with a Korean twist. He proceeded to absolutely kill it with some of the best burgers and sides in town.

Not that Lee hadn't known success before; he worked for Dale Talde at Rice and Gold, and Masaharo Morimoto at Momosan Ramen. But Him was his first solo venture, and when the opportunity arose in September to sign a lease on his own restaurant, Lee took it. And so we have Nowon, a 34-seat spot on East 6th Street that Lee opened on Monday, renovating, designing, and coming up with a full menu of food in about two months.

Things are moving fast for Lee, but based on a press dinner on opening night, the man seems totally up to the challenge. Most of the best dishes from his Him stint are now available at Nowon, including the Honey Butter Tater Tots, the Chopped Cheese Rice Cakes, the Shin Ramyun Chicken Wings, and, crucially, the Dry Aged Double Cheeseburger, slathered with Kimchi mayo (note to fans: it will be served from 5 to 7 p.m. only).

Dry Aged Steak Burger with Kimchi Mayo

Dry Aged Steak Burger with Kimchi Mayo

arrow
Dry Aged Steak Burger with Kimchi Mayo
Scott Lynch / Gothamist

My companion and I did not order any of these, though you can read all about them in my review last June. Instead, we hit Lee's new jams and I'm happy to report that his expanded repertoire almost matches the glory that is his bar food. Both rice plates were great, especially the chunky Octopus and Spam Fried Rice, made even richer than that sounds by the addition of egg and bone marrow butter. The Royal Kimchi Rice delivered plenty of funk and fire, with ample amounts of ground beef added for substance and depth.

My favorite of the new dishes might be the Clam and Chicken Juk, the thick and inescapably comforting rice porridge laden with tender bivalves, a school of dried anchovies, and a surprise hit of ginger. The most expensive item of the menu, a 53rd & 6th Beef Rib Ssam, was an extravagant platter from which you could build your own beef, pickled horseradish, white sauce (hence the name, an homage to the Halal Guys cart), and shiso leaf beef bombs. A pungent Charred Broccoli dish, built like a Caesar Salad, and a surprisingly lackluster bowl of Numbing Cucumbers rounded out our meal.

Even though he only had a couple of months to do everything (his family helped a lot; in fact, his dad literally built the tables), Lee didn't skimp on the personal style that makes Nowon his own. A mural by the artist RAZO dominates the room, a portrait of Lee's grandfather who was a Marine General in the South Korean Navy, portrayed here as an ancient warrior and commander of a turtle ship.

The other big art piece is a kind of sculptural collage on the back wall, which Lee created himself. He also designed the bathroom, which is a wild, wild place, and features a soundtrack of Korean hip hop turned up to 11. The restaurant's name, by the way, is the town near Seoul where Lee grew up, before coming to America in 1998.

Nowon is located at 507 East 6th Street, between Avenues A and B, and is currently open every day from 5 p.m. to midnight, with beer, wine, and weekend brunch coming soon (646-692-3967; nowonnyc.com)