How New York’s groundbreaking new Korean restaurants are revolutionizing the kitchen
My first of seven courses at Jua is a smoke and texture boost, a seaweed-wrapped bite of shrimp, plain, smoked trout roe, rice, and pickled cucumber that dances somewhere between Western and Korean. Both luxurious and familiar, it’s not just an introduction to Chef Hoyoung Kim’s wood-fire centered cuisine, but a brief example of the evolution of Korean cuisine in New York City.
Korean restaurants have long been part of New York’s food, but the shift from traditional K-Town barbecue concepts to cook-oriented restaurants began about a decade ago. Although David Chang did not cook Korean food, his success with Momofuku Ko Hooni Kim, who worked for the critically acclaimed Daniel and Masa, convinced him that he could make serious, ingredient-focused Korean food without what it takes to make good food.
More from Robb Report
“When Hooni Danji opened, it was monumental,” says Simon Kim, owner of Cote, the Michelin-starred modern Korean steak house. “The restaurant was small. He didn’t spend a lot of money and got a Michelin star. Danji made the dream attainable for us. “
Shortly after Danji, the gourmet boy Jungsik opened in the former chanterelle room. Chef Jungsik Yim had studied at the Culinary Institute of America, made waves at home at Jungsik Seoul, and returned to the US to share his vision of the new Korean cuisine. He recruited talented Seoul chefs, including Hoyoung Kim and Junghyun Park, while expanding many people’s mindsets about Korean cuisine, Park says. The restaurant now has two Michelin stars.
Park and his wife Ellia now own Atoboy and Atomix. The former is a casual affair, the latter a comprehensive Michelin two-star tasting experience tied to art, music, and beverage pairings. “Just as New York City is a diverse, constantly evolving city, we also try to be open to different influences and to evolve and experiment,” says Park, who thinks his restaurants are more New York than Koreans.
The story goes on
Like Park, many Korean and Korean-American chefs were drawn to New York’s high-profile kitchens and cooking schools. Over time, an ecosystem of restaurant professionals, investors and consultants has formed. Among the more than 15 advanced concepts in town are the Michelin-starred Jeju Noodle Bar, the rough Korean-American Nowon, the casual East Village Mokyo, and the Korean hot-pot restaurant On. According to Park, not only is there room for more variety, but also hyper-focused bulgogi, hwe (a Korean approach to sliced raw fish, similar to sashimi), and soondubu restaurants.
At Cote, Kim compares meals to steak omakase, for which guests sit around $ 10,000 in smoke-free Shinpo grills and eat nine bites of “The Pinnacle of Beef” and, optionally, caviar and first-growth Bordeaux. At the beginning of this year he opened a second Cote in Miami and sees growth potential in other US cities as well, given the international flowering of Korean culture.
Even so, Kim believes New York will remain the epicenter of Korean fine dining. “I firmly believe that we are a city of our own, a global city,” he says, “and there will always be opportunities for cultures to fuse and create something exciting.”
Best of Robb Report
Sign up for the Robb Report newsletter. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest news.