It took me a couple of tries to finally make a reservation at Atomix after the restaurant changed its menu for the fall. I was looking to come in September and was therefore looking to hit the Tock website at 3 p.m. on August 1 (which is when the online tickets open up) at work. I was momentarily distracted by a co-worker at the time and by the time I got to the website at 3:03 p.m. all the 6 p.m. weekend tables were gone (I didn’t have the appetite for late dinner at the 9 p.m. slot)! Fast forward to September 1, when I was traveling with my wife Jun’s parents in Arizona. We were on the way back from hiking near Sedona on a brutally hot morning, and I started to realize that the hiking trail didn’t have very good Internet connection. I sprinted by myself all the way back to the entrance where the connection was marginally better; it was only when we got to the cabin we were renting that I thought I successfully made a reservation for a Saturday evening table. Later that day, I got an email from the restaurant saying there were technical issues and my booking was made for one person. I checked the Tock website again and found there was an opening for two people (no way I go the restaurant without my beloved wife, right?) at 6 p.m. Thursday. While not ideal due to my work schedule, I decided to take that table instead. So, was the fall menu worth all the hassle? I’m pleased to report that Atomix delivered again.
The ten-course menu, with each course accompanied by a flashcard describing the ingredients as well as the inspirations for the dish, is still the same at Atomix. What also remains constant at the restaurant is the seemingly endless range of ingenuity and thoughtful execution to bring forward the tradition of Korea’s cuisine. Take, for instance, the second dish “saeng chae” (meaning raw vegetables). Growing up in Korea, I wasn’t particularly a fan of cucumber although it is one of the widely used vegetable ingredients, particularly in side dishes like kimchi. The kitchen brought forward cucumber with Kaluga caviar that offered an astounding contrast in flavor and texture, with smoked eel mousse adding another dimension on top. The colorful steamed hake with smoked trout roe on top had makgeolli (Korean rice wine) sauce that really enhanced the fish’s flavor, while the seabass “jeon” (Korean pancake) with potato dashi reminded me of a similar dish made of potato that I tasted in my first visit.
The one dish that could be divisive in the diners’ view was the smoked eggplant with abalone. I thought the smoky flavor of eggplant added a funky but not too unpleasant dimension to the abalone, but Jun thought the eggplant overwhelmed it a little bit. On the other hand, we had no disagreement that the braised sardine was one of the best dishes in the fall menu. With its spicy kick from gochugaru (pepper powder) and the dried gourd and tofu on top, it was a magnificent dish, even more so with a bowl of rice along with sea urchin and pint nuts on the side (Jun couldn’t stop marveling at how the kitchen cleverly used the pint nuts). The restaurant’s manager and chef’s wife Ellia Park, when walking over to us, whispered that this was in fact her favorite dish from the fall menu. Quail is usually not the go-to meat dish for me, but the one from Atomix will likely make you think twice if you share my sentiment about the poultry. The gently fried quail from the kitchen, using the Korean frying technique called “bugak” according to the flashcard describing the dish, was quite wonderful.
Atomix always makes some seriously good grilled meat dishes, and the wagyu that came as the last savory course was no exception, simply flawless in its juicy texture, and even better with a small bowl of buckwheat noodle called naengmyeon whose refreshing flavor worked beautifully with the meat. Following a colorful palate cleanser with Korean chaomoe (think Korean melon) and green ice made of anise hyssop, Jun and I immensely enjoyed the dessert that came in the form of cherry bark ice cream, preserved peach, curd made of ssuk (think an herbal plant) and caramelized white chocolate crumble that gave an earthy and delightful impact to our taste bud.
As noted above, getting a reservation at Atomix is already exceptionally difficult, and it will likely only get worse now that the restaurant has recently received two Michelin stars. I would recommend blocking your time around 3 p.m. on the first day of month so you can instantly log into Tock and snag your desired table. The constantly changing wine list at Atomix is always fabulous as always, and Jun and I split a complex bottle of Cote-Rotie from Northern Rhone to complement our meal. For all the accolades that the restaurant has received to date, I still find it pretty puzzling to see that not many Korean diners are at the counter (we were pretty sure we were the only Koreans during our recent visit). In any event, Atomix is still the best restaurant in New York City at the moment for Jun and I. After our fall menu dinner, we were told that the restaurant will change its menu again in the near future, so I am making sure we can visit for my birthday in December.
KenScale: 9.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.75/10)
- Creativity: 9.5/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 9.0/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 9.5/10
- Value: 9.0/10
Address: 104 East 30th Street, New York, NY 10016