In July 2011, you may be a little embarrassed to say "I've eaten Korean foods" after only adventuring bibimbap or Korean BBQ. That month, a totally different Korean restaurant will invade Tribeca, New York. Behold, New Yorkers, Jung Sik Dang (@JUNGSIKDANG on Twitter) arrives.
Jung Sik Dang (which opened in 2009 in Seoul) is new Korean cuisine. By that I don't mean, un-distinguishable fusion stuff. I do mean new, innovative Korean cuisine.
Chef and owner Yim Jung Sik is young. The 3o-something guy who first got interested in cooking while serving army as a cook (cooking un-edible military foods!) in Korea is curious. So he and his team are naturally playful and flavorful. He then later trained himself at an institution like CIA, then restaurants like Bouley, Aquavit, but his spirit never got trained, which is good. He also worked at Zuberoa, Akelare in Spain.
Recently, when I went back home in Seoul, I hurried myself to dine at Jung Sik Dang. I couldn't wait till they open in Tribeca, New York in July. I had to try. Below is very similar what you're going to taste at his Tribeca post. Chef Yim confirmed me in an email. "We will set similar menus as in Seoul", he wrote.
The space wasn't huge, just enough for 6 tables with a room for privacy. Dark wood floor, tables were calm. Chairs were comfortable. Light green painted wall was lively. Top to bottom window corner was open facing a park, creating atmosphere of a well maintained resort of South Asia.
Bread serving is unusual at Korean restaurants. They give you rice, you know. Jung Sik Dang offers interesting bread selections ; A petite baguette on the left is Korean hot pepper (Korean version of jalapeno). Every bite is full of surprising spicy kicks and smell. If you don't welcome this spiciness, you can apply sweet and rich butter on it, then you will be saved. The one on the right is cranberry which presents nutty and biscotti texture.
Amuse bouche arrives. This little cute glass bowl holds a quite amazing combo in it. On the bottom, there are cherry tomatoes topped with apple foam. Ah, how refreshing! Plus, pale pinky powder of salmon adds a little ground-ness to the dish. It's light enough to be amuse bouche, but fancier to be a regular amuse bouche. Then, sprinkles of dill and herb oil. Unusually perfecto.
Jung Sik Dang only offers tasting menus. For lunch, I chose to savor 5 courses (about $65, which features three kinds of desserts!). Here we go, my first dish, "Picking your Salads" .
This is an edible pot of salads. A waiter warns me. "You have to wash your hands after this one, would you mind?" he asks. Of course not. First of all, variety of greens is absolutely fresh. Edible soil that holds greens is white foam of coconut & citrus yuzu. That rich creamy texture is almost like whipped cream. For greens' well being, they spray lime essence oil. That works as salad dressing. I had to restrain myself from not digging the coconut foam all the way down. Absolute pleasure start.
"Korean hot pepper Cream Kalkuksu" is a must to try. Kalkuksu (hand made noodle I adore), traditionally, is not associated with cream and it usually is served with lots of soup. So, I dare to taste the experiment. Clams are sauteed first, then added to the soup. That produces a well balanced Chinese character to the dish. Also, creamy broth isn't heavy at all. Soft and sweet zucchini, garlic, and hot pepper are all working graciously. Noodles are cooked perfectly as well. Oh, they give you fork, not chopsticks to try this one. So it is sort of in between Chinese noodles and Italian spaghetti based on Korean spirit.
This dish is a killer. "Spanish Mackerel" is cooked and presented perfectly. It is my favorite among dishes I tried that day. Fish is grilled well, but it is stuff accompanied with it that amazes me. First, the black, green sauce on the bottom is made of sesame leaves and soy sauce. That distinctive aroma captures the smoky flavor of fish. Then, see that black rocky shape sponge? It's made of dried laver. How do they do that. I can't even describe that taste. Just shockingly good and interesting. You can almost taste the curiousness of chefs. Then grilled baby potatoes to give some familiarity. It's not shown in the picture, but there are pickled radish and cucumber to cut thru fishy-ness. Also, arugula works as same purpose ; Bitter taste cutting thru oily, fishy taste. Oh, that white foam is made of soy sauce and vinegar, popped right in front of me exuding playfulness.
The grand finale of main dish is "Rainbow Garden" featuring lobster. It's so very colorful, but before the waiter poured this green sesame butter sauce onto it, I should've taken a picture of it. It was even more beautiful; Innocent, pure colors of seafoods. Lobster was pan fried to give chewy texture, but it wasn't cooked well. Some parts were dry, and other parts were not cooked enough. I forgive that missing skill since I just loved all kinds of pickles and veggies were presented together on this dish. Little tapioca jellies were gems. Interesting pairing of textures; jellies and lobsters. However, you're serious about lobster, skip this one.
Now, odyssey of three dreamy desserts starts. They were all presented at one plate. This is "Rychee and Raspberry". It's so complex that I don't know where to start. White ice cream was rychee. Ah, that subtle sweetness with tropical touch! Cinnamon crumbles, raspberry cream block, spinach sponge were all delish. Each one of them should be presented separately. It's almost too generous to give those at one dish.
This is innovative ; "Burdock Chocolate". Burdock is a root veggie that usually cooked with soy sauce for side dish. So burdock chocolate? It was just great. Brownie with burdock felt like a dark chocolate. The earthy, slightly bitter flavor of burdock works perfectly with chocolate. Then caramelized milk ice cream, yam, you can't complain.
"Squash Panna Cota" was refreshing. Clean taste of silky and cold cream was complimentary to hugging comforting taste of squash mousse.
Now, my very attentive waiter offers me variety of teas. You can choose from it or cup of coffee (not espresso). I choose a cup of mint tea.
Then as if I didn't eat enough, they give me more desserts. I don't mind. Front one is shepherd's purse macaroon. Behind is mugwort muffin. In spring, Koreans are dying to eat those herb-like spring veggies which contain lots of vitamin C. We make soups, steamed side dish... But apply those into desserts? Genius. Absolutely delicious.
We trained ourselves with Korean foods through David Chang of Momofuku, then recently with Hooni Kim of Danji. And of course, unbeatable Korea Town restaurants and Kimchi Taco trucks. They are all great. Yim Jung Sik of Jung Sik Dang, however, will take you further. Trust me.