For this week’s review, I took the Long Island Railroad out to Auburndale, Flushing, to sample Gap Soon Cho’s Korean home cooking at Myung San (162-21 Depot Road, Queens; 718-888-1245). The matriarchal chef delights guests with the funky, fermented soybean soup known as cheonggukjang, colloquially referred to as dead body soup thanks to its singular odor. Myung San’s charm lies in its simple and straightforward cooking, despite the unintended trendiness of Cho growing her own vegetables and herbs to use in her menu of soups, stir fries, and the massive stews called jeongol, which arrive at the table decorated with vegetation. In stark contrast to the Flushing stalwart stands Tribeca’s Jungsik (2 Harrison Street, 212-219-0900), a modern, French-inflected Korean restaurant that took over the Chanterelle space on Harrison Street. This place received a second Michelin star last fall.
The brainchild of Jung Sik Yim, a Hyde Park Culinary Institute of America grad who spent time in the kitchens of Bouley and Aquavit, Jungsik interprets Korean cuisine through a modern and, often, French lens. Bread service features potato rolls, nearly as soft as the butter they’re served alongside, and a mellow jalapeño baguette. True to Michelin form, every meal starts with an amuse bouche assortment and ends with a plate of petit fours. This visit, things kicked off with a frothy cup of rich and briny foamed razor clam chowder, a popcorn-sized nubbin of fried chicken sitting in spicy mayonnaise, marinated mussels with slightly brown avocado puree sitting on a tortilla crisp, and an intriguing smoked eel mousse piped into a thin, crisp dough shell and adhered to the slate serving stone with apple gel.
Also true to Michelin form, a meal here does not come cheap. The initial offering of $80 three-course and $115 five-course menus have since been replaced by an a la carte menu where entrees range from $36-$50 and a nine-course tasting menu that clocks in at $160 before wine pairings. Although most items are offered in smaller portions for a reduced price, it would be difficult to get out of here for under $60 without feeling hungry. In comparison, Myung San’s most expensive dishes are the $45 jeongol stews that feed at least six people.
Jungsik bathes itself in subdued atmosphere, with dimmed lighting and dreamy melodies being the only sounds to emanate from the dining room. There were other diners present when I visited, but for all their conversation, I could only hear harmonica. Less dreamy is Yim’s take on bossam, an oval serving dish layered with saucy rice flavored with doenjang — a fermented soybean paste that’s far milder than its aggressive cousin cheonggukjang — soy-pickled onions, and crisp, braised-then-seared pork belly. The dish’s topping of shredded romaine looked fine enough, but, predictably, added little flavor. It also made me yearn for Myung San’s incredibly verdant arrangement of vegetable and herb ssam, which, in addition to looking beautiful, added immeasurable dimension to the dish.
Another Jungsik signature, Yim’s Tribeca lobster pairs supple, butter-poached crustacean with velvety beurre blanc and a not-too-sweet raspberry coulis. The lobster’s sweetness, enhanced by its butter poaching, works surprisingly well with the floral notes of the fruit. Red pepper chutney aids the heavy affair with some much needed tang. It’s a fun, rich plate of food.
New for spring is the squab, dry-aged for three days to intensify the bird’s gamy flavor. The aging also removes moisture, allowing the skin to achieve an almost deep-fried crunch that gives way to succulent meat. The sauce, poured tableside, is a mixture of squab broth reduced with the fermented chili paste known as gochujang. Its deep, earthy spice is tempered by the avian stock, in tune with the squab as much as with the broccoli florets and sweet potato puree that accompany it.
While Yim’s dish conception is less esoteric than in years past, this restraint seems to have paid off in the long run. It’s a relief not to have to traverse plate elements like cucumber clouds and “five senses pork,” but while the approach works for the food, it translates to an almost muted dining experience. But then the petit fours arrive, hidden inside a split planter whose top brims with a lovely flower bouquet. It’s a promise of spring, and its charm is readily apparent. If you can afford it, Jungsik’s modern Korean cooking has certainly earned its place in New York.