It’s not every day that one gets kidnapped on the way to dinner, as I was on my way to Jungsik.
Afterwards, I read Pete Wells’s review of that restaurant in the New York Times and realized that my strange, “cab ride to crazy town” was foretold (fourth graph, last sentence). Thankfully, with some quick thinking, the help of observant strangers, and six NYPD officers, I was able to escape the situation unharmed, but nearly an hour late to dinner. Mr. Wells’s review was not only oddly Delphic in that way, but quite keen for other reasons. It published at the end of February, nearly three months before I arrived in May.
Whereas this was my first and only meal at Jungsik so far, Mr. Wells had multiple meals there, making his survey, admittedly, more comprensive, and for other reasons (which I explain below), more objective than mine. But if the meal I had was an updated par for the course, then I’d hedge that Jungsik has improved in the months that passed between Mr. Wells’s visits and mine.
I must make a couple of disclosures upfront:
Though Jungsik was on my radar even before it opened in late September of 2011, it moved up on my bucket list when I learned that a college fencing teammate of mine, Jin Ahn (I fenced foil, he fenced epée), was replacing Andrea Ahan, the opening general manager of the restaurant. Jin and I had been chasing each other since his days as a server at Trio in Evanston, Illinois, never able to catch each other, even when he moved on to work at Jean Georges and per se in New York. So, my dinner at Jungsik was a reunion.
I don’t know if we received any more attention as a result (my dinner companions and I were so engrossed in conversation, that the service was exactly what it needed to be – unobtrusive and seamless). But we did receive a few extra courses.
I think the biggest challenge that Jungsik faces is its pricing. I’m not the first to raise this issue. Ryan Sutton, the restaurant critic for Bloomberg and keeper of the restaurant consumer price index blog, “The Price Hike,” was very vocal about this (although his issues with Jungsik ran far deeper than price alone, as noted in the title of his review “Lobster Dessert, Bland Short Ribs Mar Pricey New Jungsik“).
Pete Wells, instead of focusing on sticker-shock in his evaluation, judiciously and efficiently reasoned that Jungsik’s “prices invite comparison with some of the city’s best,” suggesting that, perhaps, Jungsik didn’t quite clear that hurdle. At least not yet.
At the time I visited, the restaurant offered three menus: three courses ($80), five courses ($115), and ten courses ($155). The two smaller menus came with choices, while the ten-course menu was set. But just last week, the restaurant eliminated the three and five-course menus in favor of an à la carte menu with all of the dishes (except desserts) offered in two sizes, perhaps to create more flexibility and alleviate concerns about pricing. The ten-course set tasting menu remains.
I’d be lying if the pricing didn’t make me pause at first. But, considering my experience, I can’t say that Jungsik didn’t measure up to some of the city’s finest. The cooking was incredibly precise, the flavors neatly stacked, and the plating immaculate. Now, whether Jungsik can perform at this level consistently is another matter, which I can’t settle at this time. And whether Jungsik’s pricing can overcome the skepticism and savvy of New York diners is also out of my control. I hope it can, because I loved it.
The crunchy “Jungsik salad” that I ordered as my first course was a perfect example of how chef Jungsik Yim marries Western ingredients to Korean flavors. On a pavement of seaweed pulp – more chimichurri than vinaigrette – sprawled a beautiful collection of quail eggs, radishes, cucumbers, and herbs.
There was bibim bop in a tub, with quinoa and sea urchin. This was delicious, familiar as the original, but with completely different textures and flavors.
Asians like to mix seafood with meat, and you’ll find both in a spicy broth, tinted a pastel shade of green with zucchini. Served with a twirl of kalgusksu (knife-cut noodles), it tasted like pork and clams, spiked with jalapeño and garlic. You want to know what xian is? This is it.
Everything was beautifully cooked.
The skate was pillowy and light, served with chorizo and clam broth beneath a coral crisp. The black cod was practically melting under the weight of a soy and red pepper glaze, topped with crunchy skin; the Korean answer to Nobu’s neo-Japanese classic. And the lobster was tender, bathed in butter and served with more. Sutton called this dish – which was equal parts lobster and beurre blanc – dessert. True, it was rich, but I thought the flavor was quite balanced. The raspberry coulis laced with mustard produced a particularly Asian, tangy heat, here cleverly concealed in a fatty, French fawn.
The duck was amazing, Seoul’s answer to Peking’s icon. The skin was crispy, the meat was rosy. It was sauced with a wild sesame jus infused with figs. I loved this dish.
I loved the pork jowl too, four nuggets with the most amazing cap of crackling.
I didn’t find the short rib “galbi” bland at all. If the meat’s own juices weren’t flavorful enough, the kimchi certainly was. And the meat was incredibly tender; perfect, really.
The “Champs Élysees,” a blingy porridge of arborio rice, foie gras, red wine and a raw quail egg, was, perhaps, my favorite dish of the night. If it weren’t for the kimchi, I’m not sure it’d be recognizably Korean in any way. Who cares? It was fantastic.
But that might be a problem for those uninitiated to Korean cuisine. I’m no expert either, and if it weren’t for the guidance of my friend Jin, who pulled from the otherwise heavily classic, French technique, the culinary references that moored Yim’s cooking to his motherland, I might have missed them altogether.
My dinner at Jungsik made me want to learn more about Korean culture and cuisine. That, alone, I consider a great achievement by the chef.
Desserts were shockingly good, and visually stunning. Like both the chef and the sommelier, the pastry chef, Jonghun Wong, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and returned to Korea to open the original Jungsik in Seoul, before coming back to the U.S. to open this one, their second restaurant.
The three desserts we chose were immensely fragrant and floral, light and bright.
Baba came soaked with Grand Marnier and served with Calvados cream and a boozy granité of green apple and unfiltered rice wine. This one was my favorite.
Lychee and rose made a beautiful couple in a mousse, layered with sablé and plum compote and sealed with a ruby-red plum jelly.
And a flawless, frozen strawberry came ringed with spinach foam, bay leaf sherbet, and a pretty, pink mantle of cremeaux. It looked almost too perfect to be real.
I don’t know why the little bites that bookended our meal failed to capture my imagination as much as the middle of our meal did. Nothing was particularly flawed or missing about them. Perhaps I was too hopped up on adrenaline at the beginning – having just sprinted six blocks after the police let me go – to give the parade of amuse bouches (like perfectly lovely homemade tofu, or Korean fried chicken with spicy mayonnaise, or bulgogi sliders on milky buns) proper consideration.
And, maybe I was too tired at the end to appreciate the petits fours, which started with a chocolate pôt de crème infused with angelica (to aid digestion, we were told) and ended with a plate of sweets, including yuzu macarons and mugwort financiers.
Or, maybe everything in between was just better, more compelling, more flavorful, more substantive.
Jungsik stands to move Asian food forward in the United States, to break the glass ceiling that only the Japanese have been able to do thus far. It is exciting. And you’ll find it in TriBeCa, in the former Chanterelle space on the corner of Hudson and Harrison Streets. I’ve recommended it to many friends already. And I think you should go too.
We ordered the five-course menu. Here are the dishes we ordered, plus a few that the kitchen sent out to us. To see all of the photos in one album, click here.
Crunchy salad, seaweed, quail egg, radishes.
Marinated mushroom, poached hen egg, kimchi, dashi.
Topped with Parmesan crisp.
Raw yellowtail, cilantro gazpacho.
Braised octopus, ssamjang aioli with pickled beets.
Potatoes and red pepper condiment.
Foie gras, Port wine, raw quail egg.
Noodles, shellfish and pork broth
Zucchini, garlic, scallion, clams and jalapeno.
Korean seaweed rice, crispy quinoa.
Chorizo sausage, clam consommé.
Butter-poached lobster, beurre-blanc, Korean mustard,
Raspberry coulis, navel orange, and red pepper condiment.
Soy and red pepper-marinaded black cod.
Korean radish and green beans with crispy cod skin.
Crispy-skin duck served with beets, blueberries, asparagus.
Finished with wild-sesame jus infused with figs.
Smoked Pork Jowl
Pickled ramps and radishes.
Wagyu short-rib, crispy rice cakes, and kimchi.
Ginger juice infused with watermelon,
Granny Smith apple, white peach and navel orange.
Apple and Rice Wine Baba
Sponge cake soaked in Grand Marnier, Calvados cream,
Granny Smith-makguli granité.
Sable crumble, plum compote,
Lychee-rose mousse and plum jelly.
Frozen strawberry mousse, spinach sponge cake,
Vanilla discs and bay leaf sherbet.
2 Harrison Street
New York, New York 10013