Restaurants & Bars 3

TR: Jungsik

XX_with_gusto | Apr 7, 2013 01:07 PM

Was able to go to Jungsik (Jung Sik?) on Friday night to celebrate my SO's birthday. What a treat! Sorry for the picture quality; I was using an iPhone without flash, and the restaurant is dark.

Had a 9p res. I made the reservation on OpenTable and mentioned in the comments that we were celebrating a birthday. Incidentally, I made the res on Wednesday and there was tons of availability for Friday, even during primetime. Sad, since the meal was totally excellent. Anyway, I got a call on Thursday confirming and asking for the spelling of the birthday girl's name.

We arrived and were seated promptly next to a window in a small room with only 4 tables. One table was empty, and the other two were finishing up, so we'd have the room to ourselves for the majority of the evening (we would eventually close the joint, since we didn't finish until after 12am). We were greeted with the menu (picture taken after the fact, we got the menus as souvenirs):

Note the personalization, a very nice touch imo.

After deciding on the tasting menu (we had already decided but we spent a few minutes drooling over the a la carte menu), I asked the waiter about a wine. I had read a few reviews where diners complained that the waiter tried to upsell them and so the diners asked for the sommelier who recommended a cheaper wine that turned out to be very good. In our case, the waiter just got the sommelier right away, which is as it should be imo. Anyway, the sommelier recommended a few wines, and we settled on an Austrian Riesling (2011 Nigl Riesling).

Let me say that I'm not a wine connoisseur, and my experience with Rieslings has been by-and-large terrible. Most that I've had have been incredibly sweet and, well, basically gross. This wine was very crisp, had almost an effervescent quality up front -- which was weird since obviously it wasn't sparkling -- and had long-lasting citrus notes. It was a fairly inexpensive bottle of wine (menu: $65, store/online: $28) relative to the cost of the meal, but it paired pretty well. Both of us enjoyed the wine and felt no upsell pressure from the waiter or sommelier. And the sommelier made sure our glasses always had about 2-3oz of wine in them all night. The bottle lasted through all of the courses (which it probably wouldn't have, we realized, had the sommelier been heavier-handed with his pouring, and this added to our feeling like we weren't pressured at all). We fully expected to kick the bottle and have to order another one, but we didn't -- even though the meal lasted 3 hours!

Anyway, onto the food:

Before the official 10 courses started, we got an amuse bouche:
Clockwise from top left, we have a sesame rice cracker with Asian pear jam, korean fried chicken slider with spicy sauce, rice cakes with a spicy sweet and sour sauce, and phyllo dough filled with sweet potato puree. The waiter made a joke about having to talk to the chef since sweet potatoes are out of season. Incidentally, the waiter was just a little off. He was very nice and accommodating, and the service was more-or-less impeccable, but he gave off a kind of pretentious vibe that I'm not comfortable with. I feel like with great service I shouldn't have an opinion of the waiter other than "excellent waiter." Whatever. Oh, right, the spoon in the middle is housemade (iirc) creamy tofu topped with an eggplant salad of some sort.

I will say that my comment when I tasted the chicken slider was "I want this taste to last forever," but everything on the plate was good. The spicy sweet and sour sauce was awesome. I would order S&S chicken all the time if it came in that sauce, but the rice cakes it came with were texturally unappealing to me -- too chewy. Keep in mind I'm really grasping for anything negative to say at all, though.

On to the 10 courses. Just kidding. Second amuse bouche:
Smoky clam chowder. You got the smoky smell as soon as they came close to the table. It really permeated everything and in a good way. I realized after these two dishes that, while I consider myself a decent cook, I'm not great at creating intense flavor. Something to work on. Ok, ok, on to dinner.

Course 1:
Foie Gras mousse with apple gelee, served with brioche. The mousse was a little sweet to me, probably due to the apple gelee. I love foie gras, and this was buttery and rich, but it was just a tad much for me. Strangely when the waiter was soliciting feedback later, he asked if the mousse tasted a little sweet to us. It was a little weird, like either they are really in tune with their diners and the food the kitchen is putting out, or the joint is bugged. You can see the mini-slices of brioche in the center of the table, and honestly, I felt so crazy because I was ready to be done with the foie just so I could eat the brioche by itself. It was so light and airy inside but still nice and crisp outside. The texture was amazingly perfect. Unbelievable.

Course 2:
Yook Hwe, a salad of marinated raw beef atop oyster croutons and rice, topped with a sous vide egg yolk. Basically bibimbap the fancy way. I love bibimbap, and they nailed it. Nothing really to say except that those oyster croutons were unreal. We're talking about a "crouton" the size of a half piece of rice and my GF eats one and says "oh my god is that oyster?" Yeah, it was that flavorful.

Course 3:
Jungsik salad. Uni, tuna, whitefish ceviche, mozzarella gelee in a seaweed vinaigrette. The big winner of this dish was the seaweed vinaigrette for sure. There was a lot of seaweed that made it into the dish, and that really tied everything together. My only criticism is that while everything was good, I've definitely had better uni. And I love uni, so I had high hopes. Those hopes weren't dashed -- I enjoyed the dish. It just wasn't what I was hoping for. but the seaweed was delicious.

Course 4:
Braised and pan-seared octopus served with shaved radish, fingerling potatoes, and a fermented bean paste / red pepper sauce.
The octopus was incredibly tender, and the sauce -- oh man, the sauce -- was heavenly. Could take or leave the accoutrements, but give me a bowl of octopus in that sauce any day. Or really, anything in that sauce.

Course 5:
Fried Pork Jowl. Covered in phyllo with diced granny smith apple and asian pear atop a bleu cheese aioli.
Maybe I should say that again. Fried. Pork. Jowl. Obviously this called to me, and it turned out to not disappoint. Also I am not a bleu cheese fan at all, and this "aioli" accompanied the pork well. This may surprise you, but the tastiest thing in this dish imo was the shaved Asian pear. It was intensely sweet and just shockingly refreshing. Really stood out to me. But I did love the pork, and pairing it with apple and Asian pear (which is kind of like apple) is pretty natural and simple. Really nice dish.

Halfway home, so we try course 6:
Yes, Asian paella. Squid with some kind of aioli atop barley. I don't have a heck of a lot to say about this dish, but it was done in cast iron and could have been done in stone, a la dolsat bibimbap. What I mean is that the barley at bottom kind of started to crisp up just like the rice in dolsat bibimbap. And really, having barley was kind of a nice sub for rice. Just a slightly different texture. Again, the tastes in this dish were on point.

And also with the paella, they brought us a special birthday course:
Ostensibly promoting longevity, this dish was brisket and kimchi served over a risotto made from the braising liquid from the brisket. Unreal. The brisket was great, and the kimchi was just the right amount of pickled, and the risotto was so flavorful! And I don't know why I don't save more of my braising liquids at home, but holy god, they are definitely going to be saved now as risotto juice. This idea alone probably makes the dinner worth it.

Course 7:
Red snapper topped with fried scales, served with clam broth, a clam, and three types of seaweed (one is the seaweed powder you see dusting the plate). The fish was cooked perfectly, and they used hot oil to fry up the scales atop the snapper, which is pretty cool. The broth was great, especially being sopped up with the bread they brought over:
clockwise: Raisin loaf, olive ciabatta, rye sourdough.
Butter served with salt, the way it should be.

Course 8:
Wagyu beef served with a kimchi sauce, cucumber ribbon, and pearl onions. I honestly felt that the dish was a little undersalted. Luckily, the clam broth in course 7 was not, and I used a lot of bread for that, so I had plenty of the butter salt to spare. So I took a couple pinches and salted the meat (yes, that's one pinch per tiny piece of meat, don't judge me), and man the next few bites just were ridiculously good. The meat, the kimchi sauce, the onions, everything just popped. This easily went from being my lowest-rated dish to one of the better ones I had. Or at least on par with the others. Can't tell you how happy those few bites made me.

Course 9:
Quince trifle.
Ok, so we were feeling pretty full, ready for a couple tastes of dessert and to head back to the hotel (a speakeasy was the original plan, but we both felt like we couldn't pile cocktails on top of all this), so course 9 (which was referred to as a "palette cleanser") was a refreshing change of pace. It was cold and small, cinnamon gelee, something quince (maybe puree in there?), and a vanilla foam. I just don't associate cinnamon with palette cleansing, but whatever. Dessert #1 was just the right size, and it was pretty good.

Course 10:
Pumpkin cheesecake. I thought the little taro crisps or whatever they were were kind of odd, but there was an intensely flavored ginger ice cream on top of the pumpkin cheesecake. And the little cream dollops to the side were definitely not whipped cream. They must have been made with sour cream or something like that. You can also see some kind of cinnamon crumble sprinkled on everything (this did not seem to be graham cracker-ish at all like you might expect), and the crumble was good. All in all, this missed the mark a little for me. The ginger ice cream paired well, but it was a little bit much for me.
My dining companion loved it, though, so ymmv.

Time to head home. Just kidding, MORE desserts!
Chocolate mousse with some kind of Korean digestive topped with coconut and a sesame crisp (I think). Also, petit fours: lemon(?) macaron, some kind of cake, and a hazelnut-chocolate bonbon.

I'm not a macaron fan in general -- something meringue-y about the outside, and that's a texture that bugs me. This was bitesize though and pretty tasty. The bonbon was like bochi (?), those Italian chocolates with crunchy and creamy hazelnut/choc filling. I didn't get any intense flavors from the cake. And the mousse was nice, and since I have a separate dessert stomach, this was a nice way to end the evening. It was definitely time to throw in the towel:

All in all, I feel like the $155 price point for the tasting is a little high but not so ridiculous to justify the empty tables in the restaurant. Do people just not go downtown to eat? I mean at 9pm in Tribeca on a Friday, there was hardly anyone out, and the weather was gorgeous. I would go back, but I'd be far more inclined to go back if it was 100/head instead of 155. Even 110/120 would feel a lot better to me. With the wine, tax, and tip, this ended up close to $500, which I was happy to pay, since the meal was great, but being able to get out for around $300 I'd guess would have this place filled all the time. Maybe that's not what they are going for, but man if the place isn't full at 9pm on a beautiful Friday, I can't imagine what it's like on a Wednesday.

Anyway, this is definitely one of the best meals I've ever had, and the place really deserves its star.

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