Nouvelle Korean at Jung Sik Dang

Our meal at Wildrocket yesterday reminded me of the lunch we had at a contemporary Korean restaurant called Jung Sik Dang in Seoul a few weeks ago.  I didn’t do any extensive research on modern Korean cuisine but I came across a few articles and blogs about a recent wave of “nouvelle Korean” restaurants in Seoul.  I learned that there was a handful of young Korean chefs who attended Western culinary schools, apprenticed in NY and Europe, and returned to Korea to open restaurants that merge Korean flavors and ingredients with European techniques.  Jung Sik Dang, near Apgujeong-dong, seemed to have a number of favorable reviews and after checking out their website, Kevin, Peter, and I decided to dine there.

The chef-owner of Jung Sik Dang (chef Jung Sik Yim) is a graduate of CIA and his bio noted that he trained at Bouley and Aquavit in New York, as well as Zuberoa and Akelare in Spain.  During our visit, one of his sous chefs told us that until last December he worked at Le Cirque in New York.  Throughout our meal, the maitre d’ and a female sous chef explained each course and individual dishes in English, which made things a lot easier and comfortable for us (they also have an English menu).  The interior of the restaurant was tranquil and modern, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking a park with tall pine trees.  It was a misty afternoon but we felt cozy and well cared for at the restaurant.

Since there were three of us we decided to each choose a different dish from the four-course tasting menu.  Our amuse bouche was a delicate cucumber foam, which I didn’t find particularly memorable.  But the bread and the salad course fared better; we were served small individual baguettes that had pieces of spicy green chilies that gave otherwise very French bread a hint of “Korean-ess.”  Of the three different salads, my favorite was the “spring, summer, fall, winter” salad with grilled zucchini, tomato foam, parsley puree, and Gruyere.  There was absolutely nothing Korean or Asian about the dish but I thought the presentation was beautiful and delicate.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter salad

The rice course came next.  I tasted the sea squirt bibimpap first- I knew that sea squirts were in season because I kept seeing it on TV and at the market but it

Sea squirt bibimbap

wasn’t something I was seeking out to eat.  The dish included thinly sliced silvers of raw sea squirt, seaweed puree, water parsley and onions.  It was not too briny and I wasn’t able to detect too much flavor from the sea squirt except for the slightly chewy texture it gave to the rice.  We had expected more from this dish but our disappointment was soon forgotten with another rice dish.  This one was called anchovy paella, which was made with anchovy stock (myeulchi base), seaweed, barley, rice, and baby octopus.  It was deceivingly delicious; inclusion of barley along with rice gave it a toothsome bite that was quite pleasing.  The baby octopus was soft and tender and each spoonful had the background note of dried anchovies that I know only Korean stock base can provide.  I could imagine a Japanese version of this dish made with dashi and my palate tried to recall the Spanish version of it with chicken stock.  We thought this Korean paella thoroughly enjoyable and agreed that it was the most successful of the afternoon.

Of the meat course we liked the “five senses satisfaction pork belly” and the lamb loin.  There were hints of Korean spices in the sauces but the preparation of the meat was straightforward Western (confit of pork belly and the lamb loin perfectly cooked to medium rare).  We did find the small shot glass of cold mulkimchee broth that came as an accompaniment to the lamb loin whimsical, but I thought it was too acidic and assertive when sipped after having the lamb.

Five senses satisfaction pork belly

They had two desserts on offer: raspberry cremeux with peach sorbet and Jungsikdang soo jung gwa.  We tried them both but the Korean dessert was infinitely better.  Soo jung gwa is a drink served chilled after a meal, but their version turned the sweet cinnamon infused liquid into a jelly.  It was topped with ginger cream, peanut brittle, and Asian pear sorbet.  It was a perfect combination of sweet, spicy, cold, and crunchy.  We finished the meal with some traditional Korean tea and sent away with boxes of house-made chocolates.

soo jung gwa jelly

Overall it was a good fine dining experience but by no means it was on the same level as Joel Robuchon or Thomas Keller.  In recent years Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore have seen an influx of high-end European restaurants, and Pierre Gagnaire opening a restaurant at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul was a definite sign that the restaurant scene in Korea is changing as well.  As for this contemporary Korean chef and his restaurant, the next step is New York City.  We were told that they will open in Tribeca this year.  I look forward to seeing how it fares in my hometown…  I hope it will do well.

Jung Sik Dang

Address: 3F, Acros B/D, 649-7 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

Tel: 82-2-517-4654

www.jungsikdang.com

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3 Responses to Nouvelle Korean at Jung Sik Dang

  1. asami says:

    Mmmm makes me hungry. Your writeup sounds like that of a professional culinary critic! I particularly like the cross-cultural equivalents you mention, so I can soft of imagine the Korean version which I’ve never had. Thank you!

  2. Have just discovered this in your archives – I’m definitely intrigued to try some more ‘fine dining’ Korean as its an area that is really lacking in Korea! Is this your pick of places to try?

    • I would recommend it, yes. There are other modern Korean restaurants in Seoul but this is the one that seemed to get the best reviews, at least in May 2011 when we were there. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect and we went for lunch- we really liked it. This chef has since opened “Jingsik” in Tribeca in Manhattan to great reivews. http://jungsik.kr/#index

      I would also recommend going to Danji in NYC where you can find modern takes on traditional Korean dishes. In the States, I think Jungsik (NYC), Momofuku Ko (NYC) or Benu (San Fran) = they are all fine dining Korean/Asian restaurants with Korean chefs who have classical/western training.

      Something a bit different but still Korean… have you watched/heard of Kimchi Chronicles? http://www.kimchichronicles.tv/ Chef Jean George Vongerichten and his Korean-born wife… Most of JGV’s restaurants in NYC have a very Asian (many times Korean) tilt to them. Kimchi chronicles has “modern korean” recipes and videos in English.

      If you follow or come across any Korean food blogs that you can recommend, I’d really appreciate it. Never too early to start doing my research, especially if it’s food related. 🙂

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