Having a birthday dinner two years in a row at a same restaurant is probably a strong testament to how much the restaurant means to that person. When I learned during my fall visit to Atomix that the restaurant will change its seasonal menu again in December, I knew I had to visit it on my birthday. On my birthday last year (see my review here https://kenscale.com/2018/12/27/atomix/), I had visited Atomix for the first time and absolutely fallen in love with the food there so I thought it was quite appropriate that I celebrate my birthday again there with my wife Jun for another magical meal. This recent visit was our fourth time at the restaurant and now chef JP and manager Ellia along with the staffs there had become familiar faces. And the meal this time also was one of the best we’ve had to date at the restaurant.
I’m always astounded by the balance in flavor and texture that the kitchen achieves so consistently in the 10-course dishes each of which is explained in more detail in a flash card with beautiful design that changes each time the menu is switched. The opening course of moo (a type of Korean radish) with yellowtail kicked off the meal wonderfully, followed by langoustine tartare with fermented rice cream that gave an interesting dimension to the tartare. One of the best dishes Jun and I had during this meal was the combination of winter squash and Kaluga caviar that gave a stunning contrast in flavor between the sweetness of the squash and the saltiness of the caviar. The next dish was just as spectacular, with king crab from Norway whose flavor was greatly enhanced with the use of sauce from mélange cheese sourced in California and some white truffle that the kitchen graciously added at no charge for my birthday, plus a banchan side dish of parae (a type of Korean seaweed) that worked as a very nice complement to the crab.
I had always been impressed with different rice bowls that accompany some of the meals (Atomix cooks its own rice dishes), and this meal delivered again. I couldn’t stop digging the wonderful rice with plump mussels on top that came alongside the aromatic mussel broth with hen of the wood mushroom and monkfish liver. The sunchoke rice with maple leaf on top that accompanied the grilled tilefish and sea urchin sauce was another winner, too. You don’t often see fried scallop at a restaurant, but Atomix will change your mind about how the scallop should be eaten with the impeccably battered and fried one accompanied by mustard puree and gim (Korean seaweed) sauce.
The last savory course, apparently inspired by the spicy pork bone and potato stew called gamjatang (one of my absolute favorite Korean dishes), used lamb saddle and gosari (a Korean bracken fern) to give the astounding level of depth to the broth even though it wasn’t spicy like the typical gamjatang. The kitchen at Atomix is not confined by our conventional notion of how an ingredient should be used. Following a palate cleanser with ginger mousse and popping candy that made me reminisce about my childhood when I enjoyed one of these snacks came the dessert of black chestnut ice cream with caramel and crumble made of pyogo mushroom that gave a delightfully earthy dimension to the dish. How many restaurant uses mushroom for a dessert? It’s hard to think of a kitchen that is willing to push the culinary boundaries as much as what Atomix is doing here.
As usual, getting a reservation at Atomix can be a Herculean challenge from the time the tickets start selling at the beginning of each month. For my birthday meal, I was able to spot a bottle of red from the Portuguese region of Bairrada from 1983 vintage (the same year I was born in!) that aged gracefully and tasted almost like a fine Barolo even though its alcohol was only 12%. The service at the restaurant as usual was always top notch and it was very nice to get to know the staffs by their names better and say Happy New Year to chef JP and Ellia before we left the restaurant. I’m so excited to see what Atomix will show to the dining world in 2020 and look forward to checking it out again for the spring menu (or even of those pop-ups the restaurant does every once in a while).
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