Twain said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Or maybe it wasn’t Twain—the statement has been attributed to more than one writer.
Today, I find myself making the opposite excuse. This review is shorter than it ought to be. Jungsik, the new Korean restaurant that opened three months ago in the old Chanterelle space, is excellent. It will probably be #1 on my “Best of 2011” list. But I don’t have time to write a long review, so I’ll make do with general impressions. Here is the most important one:
Jungsik is the kind of restaurant that should have a detailed and adoring review, because it will get precious few of these. Adam Platt has already given it just one star, even though he thought the cooking deserved three. That’s Platt for you. Sam Sifton was so offended that he slammed the place in his last “Hey, Mr. Critic” column.
To be sure, Jungsik faces a headwind. It’s a clone of a Seoul restaurant, and the city’s critics almost always deduct a star for imported concepts. We loved the quiet, austere space, with its white tablecloths and elegant service. But most of the city’s current crop of critics, having declared fine dining dead, cannot bear to see a restaurant that swims against the tide. (Sam Sifton compared it to an airport lounge, which makes me wonder where he’s been flying.)
Diners are not accustomed to an expensive prix fixe for Korean food, or indeed, for any Asian cuisine except Japanese. There have been adjustments. Jungsik opened with a $125 five-course prix fixe, as much as Eleven Madison Park. It’s good, but it isn’t that good. The current price is $115 for five courses, with a three-course option at $80. That’s a big step in the right direction.
The five-course meal includes a salad, a rice or noodle dish, a fish course, a meat course, and dessert, with three or four choices for each. The three-course option, which we had, includes the first two and one meat or fish course. But it comes with three flights of amuses and petits fours, making it more like a five-course meal anyway. Indeed, I was unable to finish my entrée, which was a pity, as it was the best pork belly I have had all year.
Above and below left: three flights of amuses bouches.
Above right: bread service.
Above left: Bibim with tomato and arugula sorbet.
Above right: Four Seasons with parsley, zucchini, and quail egg.
(The kitchen seems to prefer eccentric platings with all of the food at one edge of the plate. You’ll see that over and over again in these photos.)
Above left: Sea Urchin with Korean seaweed rice and crispy quinoa
Above right: Champs-Elysées with Foie gras and kimchi
Above left: Black Cod
Above right: Five Senses Pork Belly
Below left: Petits fours
Though I’ve not described the dishes in much detail, there wasn’t a dud among them. And for that much food, suddenly $80 doesn’t seem so extravagant.
The drawback is that you can’t dip into the menu selectively. I’d love to go back and order just the pork belly, but I cannot. Platt deducted a whole star for that. But you can’t order à la carte at any of the top ten restaurants in the Platt 101, nor at any restaurant that currently has four stars from The Times.
The question is whether Jungsik will be able to get away with charging as if it’s a four-star (or high three-star) restaurant. It was about 3/4ths full by 9:00 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, but December is always a good month for restaurants. The acid test is to survive the winter.
It’s not for me to predict the future, only to say what Jungsik is now: a three-star restaurant.
Jungsik (2 Harrison Street at Hudson Street)