As usual, full review with photos on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...
PLEASE NOTE: This meal took place a few months ago, before it got reviewed in the New York Times. It's entirely possible that my comments and concerns below have already been addressed.
I had heard very good things about the food from trusted sources, and given its unique cuisine, I wasn't sure it would last 9 months. Even after going and enjoying food that was at times remarkable, I'm still not sure about the restaurant's longevity.
The service was green to say the least, and that's being very kind. It's possible that our server was a trainee, but the lack of knowledge and skill was very conspicuous. I still remember a few of the errors. When we were served our black cod entree, it was described as cod, and when I asked to confirm that it was black cod (which is sable, and not actually cod), our server said that he would have to ask what kind of cod it was. Later, when I asked if our Korean green tea was loose-leaf picked, he had to go back and ask what brand the tea was. And then at the end, he flubbed around for quite a bit as he tried to transport our mignardises using two spoons as tongs.
The most glaring thing about our meal there was that during prime time on a Thursday night (prime business dinner night), half the restaurant was still empty. Of those who were there, only two tables had men in suits. If you're going to charge these kinds of prices ($120ish set meals), you just cannot survive if you aren't getting business/client dinners.
That's why I think the best solution for them is to find a nice hotel that they can partner with. The hotel staff can certainly help with the skilled server issue, while the built-in guest clientele is much needed for the restaurant. The restaurant that I feel it should draw the most comparison to is Asiate. Just like Jungsik, many will bungle the pronunciation of the name, but at least Asiate can simply be referred to as the asian restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Sure, the chef might have to do a few more "conventional" "asian-fusion" type dishes, but it would still be a great platform for introducing people to his unique style of cuisine.
Regardless of its durability as a business, the food is in fact delicious and at times quite remarkable.
The tasting menu begins with an array of amuse bouche. Grape salad, tofu, sweet potato, bulgogi slider, and fried chicken. All very delicious bites of food.
BIBIM - TOMATO, BASIL SORBET
For our first course, we all chose the signature bibim salad. When mixed together, this provided a wonderful array of fresh flavors, textures, and temperature contrasts.
SEA URCHIN - KOREAN SEAWEED RICE, CRISPY QUINOA
CHAMPS-ELYSEES - FOIE GRAS, KIMCHI
Mixing is a large part of some of the better dishes here, incorporating flavors and textures into unique combinations. The power of mixing was evident in both these dish, where the foie and uni provided a very unique creaminess to the crunchiness of the rest of the ingredients. Both dishes was rich without being heavy. Very satisfying.
TRIBECA LOBSTER - BUTTER POACHED, KOREAN MUSTARD
The lobster was poached well enough, but I just didn't feel that the mustard sauce went well with it, even though I'm a fan of mustard. It didn't enhance the lobster in any way.
CRISPY SNAPPER - SPICY CILANTRO SAUCE
A very unique preparation, with the crispiness coming from frying the scales.
FIVE SENSE PORK BELLY - SPICY, CRUNCHY, SOUR, SOFT, SWEET
Unfortunately, we felt that at least one of the senses fell flat as the pork belly wasn't crunchy enough, and I don't recall much sourness.
CLASSIC GALBI - BEEF SHORT RIB, RICE CAKE BALL
This had a very good flavor, but I wasn't able to determine that it was better than any of the myriad galbi/short rib preparations out there. I did like the rice cake ball, and liked the texture much more than say the rice cakes in Momofuku's dishes.
GREEN TEA CREMEUX - SWEET RED BEAN, ROASTED SOY ICE CREAM
Good assortment of "asian" dessert flavors, though I didn't find the textures to be special and would've preferred a heartier roasted flavor in the ice cream.
APPLE RICE WINE BABA - CALVADOS CREAM
This was a rather interesting dessert in terms of texture and temperature, but the flavors are not my favorite.
My favorites were the appetizer and rice/noodle dishes, where the power of mixing the ingredients created unique and remarkable combinations. The proteins were good, but not at the level of a restaurant with these kinds of aspirations. Which goes back to the main point. What does this restaurant aspire to be? If it aspires to be Per Se, it needs a reality check. If it aspires to be a very good restaurant that allows the chef to introduce people to his unique cuisine, I feel that it can be done. However, I feel that they cannot do it alone on the path that they are currently on.
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