Jungsik is one of the pioneering restaurants that shows to the dining world that Korean food is not just about bibimbap or BBQ but you can actually experience a refined modern cuisine that reinterprets and reinvents the rich tradition of my mother country. While I have been to chef Jung Sik Yim’s flagship restaurant in Seoul a couple of times, I have not had a chance to visit the New York location since its opening. Despite the two Michelin-star cred, given the pricing for its multi-course tasting menu, I inevitably had to weigh different options for similar fine dining places, and somehow ended up always going to different restaurants, knowing that I could always visit Jungsik in Seoul next time I visit to see my family. When my wife Jun and I made a plan to meet with a couple visiting from San Francisco during the Memorial Day weekend, I found out that they had already made a reservation at Jungsik and could add a room for two more people, so I figured this is the time I finally should check out what the New York branch is doing. Overall, Jungsik delivers with its creative and thoughtful take on Korean cuisine, and there were some truly outstanding dishes throughout our signature tasting menu (at $225 per person, which is pricey but not out of line with other similar fine dining institutions).
The first thing a diner at Jungsik would notice would be the beautiful plating, starting with an assortment of amuse bouche that builds up expectations that you will have a fantastic meal. Then you have this fantastic tuna belly with caviar on top and a bed of quinoa at the bottom, with the textures of silky smooth tuna and crunchy quinoa working exceptionally well. The said quinoa also appears in a later dish of sea urchin with seaweed rice that we ordered as a supplement. I’m always a fan of sea urchin (can’t say Jun shares my passion though), and the one at Jungsik was one of the freshest I’ve had in a while, and it created an awesome combination of flavor and texture with the seaweed rice and quinoa that just made me smile. I’ve had a similarly delicious dish at the Seoul restaurant, but this one somehow left a more lasting impression.
I was initially worried that the foie gras mandu might be a little too overwhelming, but the addition of aromatic gomtang (a traditional beef bone soup) broth made a ton of difference. Not all dishes were winners, although there was no single bad dish either. Octopus with gochujang (red pepper paste) aioli, one of the standout dishes according to the server, was a little bit too strong in the flavor (I sensed the aioli to be a little bit sweeter than I had hoped, while not detecting as much spiciness), and I’ve had more a memorable butter poached lobster at other restaurants (and the addition of doenjang (soybean paste) surprisingly didn’t add much). The playful take on tuna kimbap that you can eat with your hand deep fried the seaweed shell a little too aggressively, although the content inside was still delicious, as was the galbi (marinated short ribs) that initially felt a little too sweet but overtime the texture of juicy meat won me over.
Following a refreshing yuzu sorbet with green apple granite comes an ingenious dessert called bread and butter, consisting of a “bread” with white chocolate shell inside and “butter” made of white asparagus ice cream, with strawberries on the side. It was a standout dish of the night with refined flavor that, despite the fact that I was getting full by then with a marathon three-plus hour meal, I quickly disposed of the entire dish. In fact, the pastry chef here, Eunji Lee, has been gaining accolade in her own name, and the restaurant features a separate dessert tasting at the bar and counter area. Wrapping up our meal with another delicious plate of soy and sesame-based desserts and an assortment of “petit threes” inside a mini-dok (a Korean earthenware pot; Jun, ever an aficionado with cute pottery, inquired whether she could buy one of the pots to no avail), and we all walked out of the restaurant very satisfied.
Getting a reservation at Jungsik is probably easier than other similar multi-Michelin star counterparts in the city, but I still recommend making a reservation in advance. The restaurant has a full bar with outstanding (and mostly expensive) wine lists; if you are celebrating a special occasion and want to pop open a special bottle, definitely ask for the sommelier’s recommendations. The atmosphere and décor of the dining space emphasizes the functional more than the aesthetic; you will see crowds with a diverse range of background, age and ethnicity (although Asian diners do seem to fill out a lot of the tables) where you don’t feel obligated to wear a full suit or a dress. The service was also generally on par with other fine dining restaurants in terms of attentiveness and professionalism. If anyone needs an introduction to modern Korean cuisine and is willing to spend a small fortune doing so, Jungsik is probably the most ideal place to visit in NYC. Jun and I are happy to go back in the future.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 2 Harrison Street, New York, NY 10013
Telephone: (212) 219-0900