NYC: Jungsik (Oct. 2012)
Authors: Victor, Monty, and Steven
Exec Chef: Yim Jung Sik
Date: October 6, 2012
Dinner (10-Course Tasting Menu)
Victor: We got the 10-course tasting menu. This was one of the most delightful meals that I’ve had in a while.
Monte: Full disclosure, all my comments on the food will involve some sort of exclamation of excitement for the tender, fresh, well-balanced, excitingly well-executed morsels. Also to note, the staff was extremely friendly and quick to check that everything was to our liking. The entire meal was enchanting.
Steven: It’s going to be hard not to gush about this place, as it was such a pleasant surprise. I expected the food to be good, but wasn’t quite prepared for how good. And yeah, the staff was great.
Amuse-bouche Round One:
1st: Black-sesame cracker with yuzu.
2nd: House-made tofu with eggplant salad.
3rd: Jungsik’s interpretation of naengmyun.
4th: Fried tofu skin with sautéed vegetables.
Top left: Korean fried chicken with spicy mayonnaise.
Top right: Bulgogi beef sliders with house-made brioche buns.
Monte: Holy Hors D Ouevres Batman and Superman! I love amuses because they have that pleasantly surprising element of being hidden from the menu and come from nowhere. Jungsik’s were definitely fantastic since 1) there were so many, and 2) they were all delicious. The eggplant tofu was creamy and earthy from the roasted eggplant, and the tofu skin was really sweet and pleasantly chewy – almost like a noodle/pasta.
Steven: These were all quite good. My only nitpick is that the naengmyun was a bit boring. The presentation was interesting, but it just tasted like cold noodles wrapped in starch, and had really only a savory flavor. Every other amuse had some additional element that changed the overall flavor profile. Standouts for me were the tofu skin and the Bulgogi sliders, which sort of melted in my mouth.
Amuse-bouche Round Two:
Smoked-potato clam chowder soup w sliced conch, pickled celery, and potato crisps.
Monte: This reminded me of the clam chowder I had in Boston, except twenty times tastier. Nothing too salty/briny, just a perfect oceanic taste of conch in a not-too-rich-but still creamy broth, with a slightly sweet pickle to eliminate any notion of “heaviness” from the dish. I wish they gave me a pouches of this stuff so I can just bring it home and have it directly iv dripped into me. Also, a second (seventh?) amuse? 감사합니다.
Steven: The most interesting part of this dish for me was the pickle. You don’t expect it. You taste creamy, smokey chowder, with a bit of extra savoriness and chewiness in the conch. And then, just as you think you get what the dish is supposed to to, the slightly tart, sweet, crunchy pickle does a playful little dance in your mouth.
Three kinds of fresh breads:
-Black olive ciabatta.
-Earl Grey-and-raisin brioche.
This is the Earl Grey-and-raisin brioche.
Monte: The thing emanated the scent of earl grey tea and was the most intriguing bread I’ve had in a long long time. So tasty and delicate – like any rosemary bread, but earl grey instead.
Steven: We made a comparison to the bread service at Eleven Madison Park. Both were delicious. This one was elegant and refined, the girl you want to eventually marry, while the EMP bread was like that bombshell that ruined you for other women.
Monte: You’re so poetic Steven. That really is a perfect analogy.
Victor: Whoa, whoa, whoa—someone like me could want to marry the bombshell!
Foie gras mousse under a layer of apple gelée and studded with apple shavings and cilantro leaves.
Monte: This dish blew my mind. The foie had all the pure taste of a torchon, but all the creaminess of a good butter. The sweet apple lent, as Steven pointed out, a very Korean element to the dish that otherwise would seem so French.
Steven: The thing that blew my mind, in addition to flavor of the dish, is how it was made. How did the get the foie mousse into this bowl such that it was completely flat against the bottom of the bowl? How did they manage to have that perfect layer of gelée on top, smooth but for the chunks of apple and cilantro? My theory is that the components are more liquid when they are created, perhaps heated? And then, the dish is chilled. The amazing thing is, the dish didn’t taste cold. So each component is semi-solid at room temperature. Sweat the technique.
with quail egg.
Victor: This felt like an elevated version of yukhoe (which I love)!
Monte: Excuse me waiter, my beef seems a little undercooked. In fact, the wagyu tartar is rawr! (British people say “raw” like “roar”) Oh no matter, I licked my plate clean anyways. This dish was soft and delicate, with fresh beefy goodness complimented by the taste of gochujang and sesame.
Steven: So good. Haven’t tasted something like this before, yet eating it made me remember past Korean dishes. This was really the theme of the evening, and applies to almost all the other dishes. That nagging feeling in the back of your head telling you “I’ve had this before…but wait, have I?” One nitpick of sorts, I thought the dish would have been fine with any other high quality beef, and wagyu wasn’t really necessary.
Victor: I’m kind of curious how different other beefs would have tasted compared to wagyu. Need a side-by-side comparison :(.
with mussels, Thai curry broth, and beech mushrooms.
Monte: I actually didn’t love this dish to death, like I did all the others. I merely really enjoyed it (which says a lot about the caliber of the overall meal). The scallop was perfectly cooked and very tender and sweet, but the thai curry broth was a tad too pungent and salty. Still, it’s a fantastic dish and I would’ve eaten another one in an instant.
Steven: I loved the scallop, and all the other solid components of this dish. And the broth tasted really good coating the pieces of food. But, I made the mistake of drinking the broth by itself after I finished everything else. It really was, as Monte said, too pungent and too salty as well.
with white-truffle oil and barley and topped with white kimchi.
Victor: I ate this really, really quickly (almost like a pig)… It was rather delicious.
Monte: I think Victor ate this one not like a pig, but more like a vacuum. He kind of just lowered his head to the plate and the risotto was gone. I’m not a big fan of the really briny, almost vinegar-like taste of really sour kimchi – so I just gave mine to Victor and watched him vacuum it up. Right before the human vacuum cleaned up the dish though, I did have another bite of the oat barley and it was truly fluffy and juicy, like a great risotto should be.
Steven: Oh man, this dish was so good. I didn’t understand why Victor vacuumed it…I wanted to eat it slowly so that the experience lasted longer. The risotto texture was really amazing, chewing and nutty. The pickles were light and cut the richness of the risotto. The yellow bands on top was some sort of egg mixture, although we couldn’t figure out what. We wondered whether there was cheese in there. For some reason, all the elements combined reminded me of bibimbap.
Victor: VACUUM. MORE FLAVOR, MORE SUBSTANCE, MORE FOOD IN MY MOUTH. Ideally, I’d just have five times as much. Then I could vacuum AND still have the experience last longer!
with ssamjang aioli.
Steven: This octopus was creamy. It was so well cooked that it almost melted in my mouth. Octopus. Melted. The aioli was delicious, and the crunch of the vegetables were good. But the octopus!!! One of the standout dishes of the night.
Monte: Creamy is exactly the right word. Octopus is so often rubbery and hard to chew, but this octopus almost had a texture of a mousse. It was that tender. 3 hours of braising really paid off in a great dish.
Victor: This might have been the best octopus dish I’ve ever had.
Basil Jjamppong (Korean spicy noodle soup)
with crispy pork.
Steven: Really interesting dish. I slurped the noodles but felt bad doing it, since there was so much flavor packed into each small bite. There were vegetables sliced into noodle shape as well, and a single sweet clam (or some other such shellfish) in there. The crispy pork was solid on its own, but in the context of the dish, added some additional (needed) richness. Very intricate, so again, you think of it as a typical noodle dish, and then it surprises you.
Monte: I thought this dish was like a very refined ramen dish (sorry for the non-Korean dish reference). The broth was actually not that light/floral from the basil, but was instead more earthy and ever slightly bitter with an undercutting basil tone. The noodles were perfectly chewy and the pork was crispy and rich at the same time. The elements combined to remind me of the ramen I had as a kid, except and yet oh so more delicate due to the use of basil.
Crispy Red Snapper
with tomato vinaigrette, clams, and sujebi.
Steven: The fish itself was pretty good. The fried scales were interesting, and the flesh was cooked just right. But, the standout for me was the sujebi, which are basically Korean flat noodle pieces. They are cooked in some sort of cilantro (maybe) vegetable broth, and the flavor is soaked through each piece. The flavor is big, bold, and really surprising. And oddly familiar.
Monte: I’ve never had a piece of fish with fish scales fried like this. It added a really crispy element and while I greatly prioritize delicious flavors over pretty plating, the scales made for a fantastic visual.
Wagyu beef with kimchi-sesame sauce.
Steven: This was such a creative dish. When you start eating the steak, the first sensation is the kimchi sauce. And it is really good, garlicky, flavorful, etc. etc. Then, as you chew, the buttery richness and sous-vide perfect texture of the wagyu become the stars. The fatty juices from the wagyu then mixes with the kimchi flavor in your mouth, and the complement each other perfectly. As the corporate types like to say, this was excellent synergy.
Monte: The first thing I noticed was that this steak was perfectly cooked – it was really tender and just melted in the mouth. The kimchi sauce was extremely creative and lent the steak a slightly sour and slightly garlicky note that ended up just making the dish extremely savory.
Victor: My brain kept on telling me that the kimchi sauce shouldn’t be able to mix THAT well with the wagyu, but the mix worked really well! The synergy between the wagyu and the kimchi sauce was GLORIOUS. I would totally have vacuumed this one if I could.
Smoked Pork Jowl
with pickled ramps (wild leeks).
Victor: The general manager, Jin Ahn, gave us this complimentary; he told us that this was an amazing dish that we really should try. And he was right—this was UHHH-mazing!
Steven: Omigahd. This dish. It is stupendous. I don’t care about the vegetables…there was complexity, subtlety, and interesting mixes of flavors in there, blah blah blah. But the pork. Oh the pork…it was insta-K.O. Crispy, rich, packed with flavor. There was even a hint of sweet soy and oil that reminded me of braised pork my grandmother used to make when I was little. I was not a functional human being with this in my mouth.
Monte: So I occasionally write about foodgasms that cause the head to roll with pleasure and the eyes to roll back while the flavors and texture of the divine dish massages the senses. This dish was awesome not because I experienced it, but because I saw Steven experience it (Victor rarely has such a reaction). But yes, he took the first bite and as he swooned in his seat, I grew confident that I’d myself enjoy this crispy fatty pork. And I took my bite, and found myself just smiling as waves of happiness washed over. There was fat, there was salt, there was sweetness, and everything was oh so tender. The tender inside of the meat was reminiscent of a great gnocchi in its soft subtle chewiness, while the outside was crispier than most peking ducks. I could go on and on, but bottom line, do yourself a favor and order this dish if you’re ever lucky to eat at Jungsik.
with Asian-pear sorbet.
Victor: This dish was a palate cleanser, and it was definitely very light and refreshing. (Also, apparently Omija berries are pretty much the same as goji berries.)
Steven: Not a huge dessert guy myself. But the Asian pear sorbet was really really tasty. Light and not too sweet. The berries were pretty good too, but it wasn’t my thing.
Monte: I liked the berries. And the pear. It was all subtly sweet and quite pleasant.
Frozen strawberry mousse, spinach sponge cake, a vanilla disc, and bay leaf sherbet.
Chaux pastry (like a profiterole)
with hazelnut and Frangelico cream and topped with whipped cream and cherry.
Green Tea Cremeux
with sweet red bean and roasted-soy ice cream.
Steven: Solid dessert choices, and pretty much kept the bar high in terms of quality and technique. My only thought was that the bay leaf sherbet was too strong. I understand its function in the dish, but I didn’t like it that much.
Monte: I have to disagree with Steven about the bay leaf, I thought it was very herbacious and lent an earthy freshness to the dish. The profiterole was surprisingly not Nutella-y at all, since the hazelnut flavor was much more pronounced and less sweet – it was quite light for a pastry. The green tea creme had an intense matcha flavor and worked well with the sweet soy bean ice cream.
Mignardises Part 1:
Milk chocolate pot de crème infused with angelica root with cocoa nib and a sesame tuile on top.
Steven: More food? Oh man…and it is still good. We cleaned our bowls, and then kept scraping the bottom of the little bowls for more.
Monte: I kept scraping my completely clean bowl, hoping the wait staff would notice and just give me more.
Victor: This one had just the right amount of sweetness. It didn’t taste too sweet at all (though I’m betting it had lots of sugar—sigh, carbs), yet it was still really delicious. I wanted MOAR!
Mignardises Part 2:
Left: Ginseng macaron.
Middle: Mango chocolate with balsamic reduction.
Right: Mugwort (“ssuk” in Korean) financier.
Steven: Even the petit fours! So well made, and so well balanced. The ginseng macaroon was especially intriguing, and we spent a good few minutes trying to remember what the flavor sensation was. Monte, who typically doesn’t like balsamic reduction chocolates, really liked the complexity of the truffle here.
Monte: The financier was fantastic – I really liked the ssuk flavor for its complexity. Normally financiers are good for their sweet and buttery profiles, whereas this one had a little bitter and herbal tone that really balanced it. Also, I could’ve sworn the macaron was black sesame. The petit fours were a great end to a great meal and I feel really lucky to have experienced Jungsik. Everything was perfectly cooked and the flavor combinations blended Korean cuisine into food fantastically unique.