It’s not always easy to have a phenomenal meal at a restaurant, only to be topped by an even more memorable one on the next visit. My best restaurant meal from last year was at my birthday dinner at Atomix (see my review here https://kenscale.com/2018/12/27/atomix/) and I vowed that I would come back when they change their menu in the next season. Well, it was finally that time where the kitchen switched to a brand-new spring menu in April. As soon as the April tables opened up on Tock, I made sure to book a spot immediately. Going in, my wife Jun and I knew we would have another outstanding meal. Well, I just didn’t expect that I would award the currently highest KenScale score to Atomix!
The format at Atomix has not changed from the prior seasonal menu; there are still ten courses, with each course thoughtfully described in a flashcard. Along with the change in the menu, though, the flashcard changed as well, this time by a talented designer in Brooklyn who cleverly put together the design of each card such that if you assemble them altogether like a puzzle based on the order of the dishes, you see one big card with Atomix logo. On my last visit, I was very impressed with the ingenuity of the kitchen in being able to present Korea’s culinary tradition in a fresh and coherent manner. This time, the chef Junghyun Park took some risk in some of the ingredients The first dish, with firefly squid in squid soup, was inspired by a Korean dish called cheonggukjang that is notorious for its pungent scent but is has a cult following of some Koreans who like the broth’s distinct flavor. With the squid’s funky scene, Jun and I were initially worried that this might turn off some diners who are not used to this flavor; well, the addition of fermented chickpea neutralized that funky sensation and we savored what turned out to be a very aromatic soup dish. In another dish, consisting of king crab from Norway with spinach and miyeok (Korean for seaweed) sauce, I spotted the crab innards. While Koreans love to eat the inside of crab, would non-Korean diners who are not so used to these parts similarly enjoy it? Well, the overall balance of flavor and the soft texture of king crab made this combination one of the best dishes of the night.
In one of the flashcards, chef Park talked about his recent “unforgettably delicious journey” to Spain where he got to check out some of the best restaurants in the world with his wife and restaurant manager Ellia. I asked Ms. Park where her favorite restaurant in Spain was and she said Extebarri, which happened to be the very best restaurant I had been to in my life with the highest 9.75 KenScale score ever. The dish that came out, lightly grilled bluefin tuna underneath sugar snap peas and caviar, had the touch of fire that was quite reminiscent of my blissful moment Extebarri’s grill-based dishes (see my review at Extebarri from 2015 here https://kenscale.com/2015/09/19/asador-etxebarri/). In the succession of other outstanding dishes, from the langoustine with “dureup” (a type of Korean vegetable shoots) juice (which wonderfully complemented the perfectly cooked shellfish) to the boiled pork loin with clam jus and buckwheat sprout (Jun was initially worried that the pork might have been undercooked but no its temperature was just about right), you see nearly flawless execution from the kitchen that has given a lot of thoughts to how to make the ingredients work together in a harmonious way.
In expecting a pancake-like dish in the “jeon” section, I was surprised to see Napa cabbage on top of oyster but shrugged off the unexpected plating after finding it thoroughly delicious. Spanish mackerel with mussel “jeotgal” (a type of salted preserved food typically used for side dishes) was also a standout dish but it was the side of barley with soy bean paste (“doenjang”) that Jun and I couldn’t stop thinking about. BBQ is a big part of Korean culinary culture, and hence a very high standard that Koreans typically place on the quality of grilled meat, and I am confident any such picky Koreans would enthusiastically endorse the absolutely delicious wagyu short rib with fermented pyogo mushroom sauce. After a delightful palate cleanser with salted and fermented strawberry with perilla granita (the strawberry reminded us of the popular wild strawberry we both grew up eating in Korea), the kitchen brought out another pleasant surprise in the final dessert. One of my favorite refreshments growing up in Korea was sikhye (a traditional sweet rice beverage), and Atomix somehow made the ice cream out of it! Add jochung (a syrup traditionally made out of rice starch) and honeycomb to the ice cream, and you have one of the best desserts you will have eaten in your life.
As noted in my previous review of Atomix, you have to commit in advance to purchase tickets (now selling at slightly over $200 per person); at the beginning of each month, the online ticket system opens up for the following month. Even if you feel slightly inconvenient having to make an advance commitment, trust me and just book for one of the tables without a second thought. In looking at the wine list, I noticed that it has also changed from the prior one that I remember looking at on my last visit. The sommelier is very helpful in choosing a bottle that works to your taste and price point. It was very nice of Mr. and Ms. Park to recognize us from our prior visit; throughout our meal, whenever Ms. Park came to us, Jun and I chatted with her about various topics such as our all-time favorite restaurants in the world (Ms. Park mentioned a kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto, Japan) and all the beautiful dishware brought to the table (all of them sourced from Korea). The feel of an intimate supper club with a single counter where you get plenty of attention from the staff is another major contributor to a wonderful dining experience at Atomix. I gave 9.5 KenScale score to some of the restaurants in New York at different points of time (e.g. Marea, Atera, Eleven Madison Park) but all of them have since been “demoted” to 9.0 or lower. I hereby declare Atomix to be the best restaurant in NYC, period, with a KenScale of 9.25, at least at the moment. Jun also agrees with this score, which is amusing when you think about how picky we both are when it comes to Korean restaurants because we are already familiar with our mother country’s taste. Atomix also absolutely deserves to be on my KenScale All-Star pantheon. I can’t wait to go back again in the summer when the menu changes again.
KenScale: 9.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 9.25/10)
- Creativity: 9.5/10
- Execution: 9.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.5/10
- Flavor: 9.5/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
- Value: 9.0/10
Address: 104 East 30th Street, New York, NY 10016