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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Momofuku Ssam Bar‘s large format duck dinner is a whole rotisserie Long Island duck served with chive pancakes, bibb lettuce, hoisin, duck scallion sauce, crispy shallots, and two sides of your choosing. It’s $140, feeds three to six people, and is The Best.
This and the bo ssäm (pork shoulder) dinner are the only ways to get a reservation at Ssam Bar, and that alone is enough to make the dinner worth it, as the wait at Ssam is regularly two hours in my experience. (Get there before 6:30 or after 9:30 on weekdays if you want to avoid the line.) My group of six included a couple of people who can really eat (obviously I’m including myself here), so we started with some regular menu items to supplement the duck:
It’s really hard to say “this thymus really melted in my mouth” without rolling my eyes at myself, but if I didn’t know this was offal, I’d think it was dessert. It was sweet and creamy inside, spicy and crispy on the outside, with a kick from the lemon segments arranged on top. It’s like fried chicken, if chicken had the texture of custard.
This was my second time having this dish, and I’d have it a third time, too. The rice cakes are this perfect spongy, chewy consistency, and I love all of the spicy peppers and the crisp of the shallots over the meaty sauce.
The lettuce and sauces arrived just before the duck did and were the ultimate excitement-builder. I felt about these the way I feel at a concert when the lights dim after hours of standing around, listening to crappy opening bands. Not that our starters were crappy. You know what I mean.
The duck arrived on a platter the width of the table with scallion pancakes, rice dripping with duck drippings, and what must have been every herb in the kitchen. From my vantage point, it looked like a glistening little duck breast lost in the forest:
I took a few slices and tried to keep them intact as they threatened to separate into pieces in all of their tenderness. I grabbed a scallion pancake and found it pleasantly salty and soaked through with oil, like a funnel cake. The duck scallion sauce was just adding duck to duck, and the sambal sauce was too vinegary for my taste, but the crispy shallots and hoisin were just the right combination of crunch and thick stickiness. The skin wasn’t crispy, but it had a layer of pork and duck sausage piped underneath it that was a fine substitute.
The duck thighs were apparently cooked confit and served to the side of the breast, but I couldn’t see what I was doing amidst all of the basil, cilantro, and mint, so I grabbed whatever I could with the tongs and thought it was just a pile of the fatty, fatty skin. Well, even if I missed out on the confit thigh, the skin was shockingly melty, and I wish I could feed it to anyone who’s afraid to eat fat.
Our sides of fingerling potatoes dripping in duck fat and broccoli salad just couldn’t compare to the duck, perfectly adequate as they were. The potatoes had a nice crispy-on-the-outside texture, but the flavor didn’t knock me out. The broccoli salad, on the other hand, had too much fish flavor for me. I wouldn’t order it again for myself, although I’m pleased to have had the two sides that aren’t available on the regular menu.
Clearly the duck was the star of the meal for everyone, because while half of the potatoes sat uneaten at the end of the night, my dining companions were clamoring to finish the fatty rice:
We counted about 26 slices of duck in all, which meant four to five slices per person. And honestly, I could’ve eaten twice that. So next time, I’m bringing half the friends.
Just kidding, friends.
(But not really.)
This dinner will stick with me for a while. I’ve had some good duck, but this was some good duck. A couple of my dining companions were also at the Wong whole duck dinner with me, and they both thought Wong was better because of the diversity of the duck dishes. The creativity at Wong wasn’t lost on me, and I seriously love a good Chinese bun, but I think I may have liked the scallion pancake and hoisin sauce with the duck more at Ssam Bar. It’s a toss-up. Go to Wong for the full-meal experience, but then go to Ssam Bar just to tear into some really well-done plain, ol’ duck.
From the Vault:
I went to Big D’s Grub Truck so long ago that it’s not really fair for me to rate it, but I also don’t want my meal to go unnoticed and forgotten. Here’s why Big D’s is great:
1) They actually come to the lower bowels of Manhattan, the Financial District, unlike so many of the trucks that hang out in Midtown or only come as far as Fulton Street.
2) Their truck is bright yellow, so I can spot it in the morning even while half-passed-out on the bus so I don’t go out in the cold later for no reason.
3) They serve tacos and dumplings and are always parked right across from the Cupcake Crew truck, so I can have a carbfest and then go back to my desk to half-pass-out again in bliss.
This was my first time trying bulgogi, or marinated beef cooked over open flames; Big D marinates his in soy sauce, garlic, and sesame seed oil and then tops it with kimchi puree, scallions, and crema to give this taco sweet, spicy, cool, zinging flavors. I loved the tenderness of the beef with the crunch of the cucumber, and found the kimchi to be exactly the right amount as to not overpower the rest of the dish (unlike, say, a bowl from the Korilla truck, which I also love but have to be in the mood to get kimchi-punched-in-the-face for).
Of course I thought the bulgogi spicy enough, so I was a little afraid of being knocked out by this, but I was pleasantly surprised by its balance. The lime wedge that comes with every taco helps quite a bit, as you can imagine. I don’t remember this being terribly different than the beef, but I appreciated the texture differences.
I loooooove cilantro and loooooove spicy mayo, so this was the taco for me. If the menu offered this in pork and beef, I’d get all three every time.
My co-workers and I have been longtime fans of the Bian Dang (formerly Cravings) truck’s steamed dumplings, but the glutton in me likes these better because they’re both fried and have a much thicker skin (more carbs!). Eating these gives me the same sort of feeling as eating gnocchi, except with the added benefit of filling.
I’ve been sick for a week now. Thanks to all the cold medicine I’ve been hitting or the immense amounts of godknowswhat up my nose, I haven’t been able to taste anything since last Wednesday. But my little cousin was in town from Ohio, and I couldn’t not take the poor kid somewhere cool.
So we went to “Top Chef” contestant and should-have-been-the-winner Angelo Sosa’s new casual burger joint, Social Eatz. If you can get past the fact that a Z has been added to every item on the menu–BURGER’Z! TACO’Z! SIDE’Z and SWEET’Z!–it’s actually a really cute, neighborhoody kind of place with what I understand is pretty tasty food.
I, of course, couldn’t verify the tastiness for myself thanks to my cold, but here are some photos to get your mouth to watering:
None of us could resist ordering this burger after seeing the giant banner proclaiming that it won Eater.com’s Greatest Burger in America competition, and while I think the New Yorkers in the bunch still walked away with our Shake Shack and Blue 9 bias still intact, the Ohio kids really thought it was the best they’d tasted, and nobody argued that it was one fine burger.
For me, it was a little too small when compared to the half-pounders you get at places like Cozy and Jackson Hole. For my boyfriend, it was a little too juicy, which is totally a not-real complaint when it comes to burgers. And for my cousin and his friends, the fact that they won’t add cheese to the burger was a major blow.
But why would you need cheese when the soft egg bursts all over the burger and then solidifies into this?
Hot dogs in this town always let me down. I know I’m the only one left, but I’ve never been to Crif Dogs in the East Village or Bark Hot Dogs in Prospect Heights. Yet I somehow expect that the hot dogs elsewhere will compare to my expectations of those places. I want a hot dog PILED with crap. I shouldn’t be able to pick it up unless I want to lick it off my shirt later. The diner in my hometown in Ohio serves hot dogs with chili, cheese, and onions for $1. ONE DOLLAR.
This was a sausage lounging on a thin bed of relish for $8. I won’t judge it, having not been able to taste it, but the look of it did not bowl me over.
Even with all of my sickness, I got a hint of citrus when I bit into one of these guys. That, I think, is a very good sign.
I’d be a terrible food blogger if I rated the place on presentation alone, but certainly everything looked good enough to entice me to try again when my cold subsides. And I don’t think I’ll have a problem getting in again: the place was nearly empty at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. Maybe it’s the out-of-the-way location or the way it seems caught between wanting to be a sports bar and wanting to be a trendy Asian joint along the lines of Sea in Williamsburg or Spice Market in the Meatpacking District. I never mind not having to wait in line for a seat, though, and just hope the eatz are better than the socializing.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)