I’ve never seen a negative review of Jungsik. And it’s lucky that people are talking about it, because it’s not the kind of place this American-comfort-food-lovin’ gal would seek out on her own. Luxury Korean food? In Tribeca? It seemed so exciting when I made the reservation, but in the days leading up to the dinner, it started to seem scary and foreign. In the moments before we entered the restaurant, I was almost dreading it.
And then I loved it. And then I couldn’t stop exclaiming over it.
• squid ink chip with kimchi aioli: the salty familiarity of a light-as-a-feather potato chip with the sourness of squid ink
• tofu with soy gelee
• shrimp with cucumber cloud
• fried chicken with spicy mayo: pure comfort food; perfectly crisp shell with the juiciest chicken inside
The perfect little bite, with a substantial bun that didn’t buckle under pressure. With the slice of tomato (have I mentioned that I hate tomato? I loved this tomato), it tasted exactly like a sloppy joe. And I mean that as the greatest compliment.
smoked potato soup
These very hefty bowls arrived at our table carrying a folded bit of prosciutto and a couple of brioche croutons, and a server followed with the soup itself. We thought this dish a little “precious” in its presentation, as we’re not sure that pea-sized croutons and a one-inch square of meat needed to be brought separately from the liquid, but we had no complaints about the taste. The soup was smoky and onion-flavored, gel-like in consistency, and accented by the crispy sourness of the croutons.
Schramsberg, Blanc de Blancs, California, 2007
The menu at Jungsik offers three courses or five courses with wine pairings using one-word titles, much like the menu at Eleven Madison Park. Unlike EMP, though, Jungsik offers a little more description to help in the ordering process; someone who might not order a dish based on the word “apple”, for instance, might be convinced by the words “light foie gras mousse” underneath. The back of the menu displays the chef’s suggestions for the perfect tasting menu, and while my boyfriend and I are usually happy to put our palates in the hands of the chef, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to try as many dishes as possible and each ordered different things.
apple gelee, foie gras mousse
The thinnest spread of smooth foie gras topped with a layer of apple gelee and studded with apple shavings and cilantro leaves. The sweetness of the apple made the foie subtle and less bitter than usual, and spread over the warm housemade rye bread, it was like butter and honey on toast. I took a cue from the incredible foie gras and salt tasting at Per Se and dipped each spoonful of foie into the chunky salt provided with the table bread and went into a blissful sodium coma.
four seasons: parsley, zucchini, quail egg
The one bite I tried of this seasonal salad left me feeling like it was almost too fresh, the flavors too subtle; I know it’s a sin, but I prefer my salads deep-fried and covered in ranch powder, like the one at Tenpenny. My boyfriend, who actually got to deconstruct the thing, said there were enough powerful flavors–sundried tomato, beet, herbs–to suit him, though. We both liked the hearty zucchini base, the thick herbaceous sauce, and the apple foam.
champs-elysees: foie gras, kimchi
The ingredients in these mod-looking bowls arrived separated with instructions for us to mix them together. This worried my boyfriend, who finds that this preparation leaves dishes tasting one-note, but he was impressed by the strong flavor of ginger, the meatiness the foie added, the sweetness of the port wine reduction, and the risotto quality of the overall mix.
sea urchin, Korean seaweed rice, crispy quinoa
My favourite way to eat uni is to hide it in other foods so I can taste it without looking at it–I can’t get over how gloopy and tongue-like it is with those ridges on top–so the mixing entirely worked in my favor. The regular quinoa with the crispy puffed quinoa added unexpected crunchiness to every bite, and the uni’s organ-y iron flavor managed to be noticeable without overpowering the onion and rice.
arctic char, kimchi sabayon
So beautifully presented, this char was accented with smokiness, sourness from the kimchi, and even a little cheesiness in the sauce. My boyfriend said it was rich enough to stand up to the sauce but delicate enough to feel refined. The grapes and chips provided a juxtaposition of sweet and salty and soft and crunchy.
Tribeca lobster, butter-poached, Korean mustard
This was easily–easily–the best lobster I’ve ever had. Even my boyfriend agreed, and he’s not prone to melodramatic, absolute statements like I am. It was just simply the most buttery sauce covering the most tender lobster mitts and tail with the most perfect accoutrements. The $10 supplement to the tasting was so worth it I felt the urge to get up from my table and dance around the center of the room, making sweeping gestures with my arms, declaring my love for the lobster, and not sitting back down until everyone in the room had thrown their plates on the floor and demanded a helping of it for themselves.
Raspberry and lobster? With pimento chutney? There’s no reason it worked. But it was spicy and sweet, bright and rich, buttery and citrusy. The sauce was so lobster-flavored itself that it tasted as if the lobster shells had been cooked in it. The lobster was the perfect amount of chewy and the perfect amount of tender. I don’t have a bad word to say about this dish–nor even a so-so word–and if what the manager says is true and we can walk in any time and have this at the bar, you can bet I’ll be doing so. Forgive my capitals, but this was SO GOOD.
five senses pork belly: spicy, crunchy, sour, soft, and sweet
My boyfriend and I fought over who was going to order this dish, but I luckily gave it and let him have it. This was the only misstep of the night, and it was partly a misstep just because we expected so much from it. Pork belly is like pizza, right? You can’t do it wrong. But like pizza, some pork bellies are righter than others, and this one just wasn’t flavorful enough. In terms of texture, it was outstanding, with the very crunchiest skin and fat cooked down to near-disintegration. But in terms of taste–well, there almost wasn’t any. We didn’t get the spiciness nor the sweetness; the pickles were more flavorful than the pork. It’s a shame, because the chef who created that lobster dish should do wonders with pork belly, so I’m going to hope that it was just a fluke that night.
classic galbi: beef short-rib, rice cake ball
The galbi, on the other hand, was succulent, rich, homey, and fork-tender. It tasted like it had slow-cooked for 36 hours and then simmered for 24 more. The rice cakes were crispy on the outside but still able to soak up the beef broth. The whole dish reminded me so much of a Sunday dinner made by a mom who really cares, and we both agreed that it was far superior to the pork.
apple rice wine baba, Calvados cream (apple brandy)
Dessert began with a palate cleanser of an Asian pear sorbet topped with a goji berry granita. It was tart and fresh, crunchy on top and smooth on the bottom. The texture of the sorbet was like the actual texture of an Asian pear.
My boyfriend ordered the baba, which was so good on its own it didn’t even need the “side dishes”, but I loved them all. The dish was a study in opposites, with plays on cold and warm, smooth and crunchy, soft and hard. The apple ice was intensely flavorful and complimented the pear flavor so well.
pumpkin panna cotta, cinnamon crumble, amaretto panna cotta
I can’t resist the flavors of fall and was filled with all of the warmth and sentimentality of pumpkin pie with my first bite of this creamy, spicy dessert. The top layer of panna cotta was sweet, the bottom layer almost savory, both leading to a flavorful crumble with a texture that tied together with the crisp squash strip adorning creamy topping.
chocolate pot de creme
Though it wasn’t on the menu, this post-dessert was my favourite of the sweets. The creamy chocolate was complimented by the crunchy, nutty cocoa nib topping and crystal clear sesame tuile, and the whole thing had a slight celery flavor that we loved. Our server told us it was angelica root, which is used as a digestive aid; she said that made it a healthy dessert. Wink, wink.
• yuzu macarons: not the least big yuzu-y, these actually tasted like peanut shells (what?)
• mango balsamic truffles: mango yes, but balsamic no; still fruity and delicious
• mugwort financier: buttery!
the ceiling at Jungsik
To think that I was worried Jungsik wouldn’t be “comforting” or that it wasn’t “my kind of food”! The amuse bouches alone were enough to convince me that my fears about it being too far removed from the French and New American upscale food I enjoy so much were unfounded, and then every subsequent course only served to prove more and more that there’s a place for Korean cooking in the high-end New York food scene (and that place is in my mouth). The flavor combinations were inventive, the presentation was pitch-perfect, and even the service–which some have said is too stiff–was friendly yet professional, helpful, and never intrusive. Aside from not giving me enough pork in my pork, Jungsik was spot-on and on-par with the best restaurants in NYC, and I expect to continue to see nothing but positive reviews coming out of it.
2 Harrison Street
New York, NY 10013 (map)