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tasting menu korean kaiseki

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#1 Seth Gordon

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 04:55 PM

First things first: Go.

If there's a splurge in your future, or if you're just loaded and do places like this all the time - go. Atomix is the 2018 (new) restaurant of the year.

I took no pictures. It's 2018, search #atomix on Instagram, someone out there already took better pictures than I would have anyway, I'm sure. 
 
So I hesitate to do a whole course-by-course write up, because the plan at Atomix is to change the menu every season, and for all I know the current menu may turn over as soon as next week. But based on our first meal, this is among the most exciting new restaurants I've been to in years. Eliciting memories of the first meals I had at Momofuku Ko, Aska, etc. I don't want to describe them in terms of other places, since they really are their own unique thing, but if I had to it'd be something along the lines of an Aska meets a Kyo Ya. Only with Korean flavors central. The testing menu style is more akin to a Kaiseki than a western one - each course centered around a different technique (raw, fried, steamed, braised, etc)
 
So while I won't go into every course, a few dishes I'll note.

I like the idea of a tasting menu restaurant having one dish that remains from season to season, year to year, so there's always the one touchstone to bring you back to your first memories of dining there. Think, say, the shaved foie gras with riesling gelée at Ko. Or the Oysters & Pearls at Per Se, if that place is your bag. If there's one dish from Atomix that should fill that role, it's the Sukchae - a generous dollop of Osetra caviar in a burrata-like pool of fresh curds, bathed in pine nut milk and chive oil. Hidden throughout are bits of soy-braised artichoke that add little pops of flavor contrast. Like the best dishes, hard to describe, something that you just want to luxuriate in. Let them do little variations on it with the seasons, but this should never leave the menu. Just extraordinary.
 
But it was hardly the only extraordinary moment,  merely one in a succession of them. Prior to the caviar course were two dishes featuring uni in supporting roles - Hoe, raw sea bream briefly cured in tangerine vinegar paired with Hokkaido uni, and Twigim - deep fried langoustine (a gorgeous, bright note of lemon zest in the batter) next to a dippin' sauce of California uni creamed with nasturtium. 
 
The Jjim was another favorite, eggplant with eel prepared four or five different ways - eel mousse, caramel-glazed smoked eel, eel sauce (imagine the best tonatto you've ever had, and this was better) and dehydrated smoked eel powder. Amazing tribute to the tasty Anguilla.
 
Desserts were stand-out, with little savory notes. Legit, they're on a level with Alex Stupak's legendary (and sorely missed) "pre-desserts" from WD-50. First a simple palate cleanser - creme fraiche shaved ice with fresh strawberries and the teensiest little tteokbuki you ever saw, for a little textural contrast.  The final dessert celebrates Nurungji, the burnt stuck-on rice from the bottom of a bi bim bap, the Korean socarrat. A Nurungji rice pudding full of roaty-toasty comforty notes, rice ice cream, drizzled with honey infused with fir and thyme... what a note to end on.
 
Service is fantastic, friendly, engaging. You can feel this is a labor of love, and that they love sharing it with you (I mean, as long as you can handle the price of admission they do...)

The somm was great. We opted to forgo the pairing - we had a cocktail in the bar to start and I didn't want to be blitzed by the final course, so we went with a bottle of champagne that carried us through most of the meal - conveniently right through to the second-to-last savory course, and the menu had been all-seafood to that point. The somm picked out a really interesting red for the one beef course (four gorgeous cubes of gushing, fatty A5 Miyazaki, each with a different condiment...) - a Cyprien Arlaud Pinot Noir that you could tell from first whiff had spent a bit of time on the skins. Not a wine for everyone but definitely a wine for me. Not only did it complement the beef beautifully, but the last few sips were a great match with the strawberries in the first dessert, too. Already a bit tipsy, we split a glass of Sauterne (Château Climens '09) with the Nurungji. Very vibrant as sweet wines go, a bit of zip in that one. Really great, thoughtful pairings. Good wine list, too - we went with a somewhat fancy bottle of Champers (Paul Bara "Special Club" '05) but there were many bottles in the $60 range for anyone who didn't want to spend nearly as much on wine as on the food. The markup was surprising not insanely egregious - probably averaging 2X retail. (The pairing, if one wanted to go that route, is $135, and looked worth it... saw some nice bottles being decanted for it.)

The menu... what a fun concept. Delivered as cards along with each dish, with little stories about the inspiration behind it, or the history of it, and an ingredients list with everything down to the xantham gum almost like a challenge to the chefs among us to "try this at home" - then at the end of the meal they pack them all up into a little deck to take home with you. (Though sealing the deck in a mylar bag was unnecessary... let's not put more plastic in the world than needed...)
 
Any cons? Yes but no. Worth every penny? Absolutely. Did we both feel that maybe a few more calories could have been delivered? Yes. I'm not the sort of diner who wants to leave food-coma stuffed. But... I'm gonna be straight up here: after we got home, having noticed that there was no line when we drove by (it was well after midnight) we walked up to Katz's and split a pastrami. Did we need to? Of course not, we could have gone to sleep satisfied as it was. And admittedly, we were pretty tipsy at that point, so not thinking clearly. But the fact that we had room for it... I'm not saying there needed to be more courses, but maybe a couple of dishes could have used a little padding. At Ko (back in the early 10-course days) say, the final savory courses would be more "half-entree" size. Or, say, in a typical kaiseki, the final savory is usually a rice pot - the "just in case you're still hungry" course. There are little things they could do to fill it out here and there without necessarily raising the price, or only raising it marginally. I wouldn't want, say, more of the beef (there's only so many ounces one can eat of something that rich and decadent) but a few extra carbs here, a couple ounces of fish there, it'd make all the difference without affecting the price much. What's half a Katz's? 8 oz or so? Divide that amongst 10 courses, not so hard a fix. 

That minor quibble aside... really, just fantastic. Go. Go soon, before Wells and Sutton weigh in and it's impossible (prediction: 3 and 4 stars, respectively)


#2 Orik

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 05:15 PM

Thanks! I was wondering about it but sort of unwilling to chance it given how poor some of the ingredients were at Atoboy. 


sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#3 GerryOlds

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 05:37 PM

There's also this review from the southern Sietsema.

 

Orik: how poor were the ingredients at Atoboy?



#4 Sneakeater

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 05:41 PM

Oddly, I'm going tonight.  Wonder if I'll end up at Katz's?


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#5 Seth Gordon

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 06:14 PM

Oddly, I'm going tonight.  Wonder if I'll end up at Katz's?

 

Haha. Maybe grab half a sammie a couple hours before. Or just don't get as drunk as we did. That way you can go to bed with the Nurungji lingering instead of pastrami & mustard. Not that that's a bad thing to have lingering, mind you. 

When you're there, ask them how much longer the summer menu will be in effect. Curious when it'll switch over. 



#6 Seth Gordon

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 06:24 PM

There's also this review from the southern Sietsema.

 

Reichl as well



#7 Sneakeater

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 06:24 PM

The chances of my not going there as drunk as you guys did are like zero.


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#8 Orik

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 08:24 PM

 

Orik: how poor were the ingredients at Atoboy?

 

They didn't come from a kaiseki-grade distributor, I can tell you that.

 

But it's a different price point, of course.


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#9 Sneakeater

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Posted 01 September 2018 - 04:24 AM

Not today.  Reservation fuckup (my fault).  Wednesday.

 

It's true that everybody there is SO nice.


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#10 Wilfrid

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Posted 02 September 2018 - 12:29 AM

A bit pricy for Korean, no? K-town is like five minutes away.

:troll:

#11 Sneakeater

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Posted 02 September 2018 - 12:38 AM

I guess for those prices they OUGHT to be very nice.
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#12 Sneakeater

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Posted 06 September 2018 - 04:57 PM

Holy shit.  This may be the second-best restaurant in New York.

 

NOTE TO SETH:  The menu changes next week.

 

NOTE TO ORIK:  You couldn't possibly quibble with the ingredient quality here.

 

NOTE TO EVERYBODY:  The Korean-inflected cocktails at the upstairs bar are remarkably good -- and they also serve bar snacks (and you can easily walk in).


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#13 AaronS

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Posted 06 September 2018 - 08:26 PM

behind aska or brooklyn fare?

#14 Sneakeater

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Posted 06 September 2018 - 08:28 PM

Aska


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#15 Seth Gordon

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Posted 07 September 2018 - 01:22 PM

Holy shit.  This may be the second-best restaurant in New York.

 

NOTE TO SETH:  The menu changes next week.

 

NOTE TO ORIK:  You couldn't possibly quibble with the ingredient quality here.

 

NOTE TO EVERYBODY:  The Korean-inflected cocktails at the upstairs bar are remarkably good -- and they also serve bar snacks (and you can easily walk in).

 

Right? I always wonder when I'm the first person I know to hit a place if I caught a good night or something. And while I generally trust Ruth Reichl's taste, I also know it's not like she's not recognized by everyone in the industry and doesn't get next-level service, so it's always hard to judge from her blogs. 

Only tried one cocktail (it was whichever one had corn-husk-infused whiskey) and boy, it was a boozy doozy... kind of cemented that a full wine pairing would be out of the question following it. Might have been better to save for after dinner. On future visits, we might drink lightly during the meal and if there's the "I could split a sandwich" issue, maybe just lounge at the bar with a digestif and an additional dessert (if there are any on the bar menu)

I can't speak highly enough of the staff. Especially Jhonel, the somm. It's almost supernaturally pleasant dining there. Their enthusiasm for what they're doing is infectious, but never forced. 

Curious, food-wise, if you had a similar reaction - for me, the only dish that wasn't particularly memorable was the second-to-last savory course. In our case it was halibut, but from what I've read it's usually turbot (apparently he didn't like the look of the turbot that morning) - a perfectly fine dish I'd be happy enough with anywhere, but didn't necessarily rise to the level of the rest. Though I suppose given that this menu will only be in effect for two more nights, a bit of a moot issue. 







Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: tasting menu, korean, kaiseki