Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bits and Morsels: Jungsik and Mehtaphor

The Yellowtail Hwe at Jungsik - Raw Yellowtail with Cilantro Gazpacho served with Asian pear and yuja pearls.

by Erin Frankel

This week, I went on quite the celebratory adventure through the most innovative and chic Asian establishments in New York City. This included dinner at both Tribeca soon-to-be institutions, Jungsik and Mehtaphor, as well as a visit to a few more exciting Lucky Rice Festival events.

Jungsik is a new breed of Korean, catering to sophisticated and curious New York palates with limited knowledge of traditional Korean cuisine. Earning his street cred at Bouley, Aquavit, and Michelin-starred Zuberoa and Akelarre in Spain, Seoul-native Jung Sik Yim fuses Korean flavors with a classic American and European technique.
Jungsik is uber-modern. The 55-seat space is minimalist to the core from the high-swirling ceiling with small hanging globe lights to the two long wood-paneled walls as backdrops to the sleek white seating.  
The ambiance welcomes a refined clientele who prefer their dinners formal and starkly quiet. I found myself whispering to my dining companions so as not to disturb our neighbors. The elaborateness of the vibe is reflected in the menu, which is not a la carte, but a mandatory three- or five-course tasting menu. Unlike a traditional Korean restaurant, the dishes aren't steaming at the table; instead they are neatly plated without the slightest aroma of garlic or chile-infused flavors one would expect.

Luckily, I brought along my close friend Jessie Nagin, who is studying to become a certified nutritionist, so she was able to offer great insight into the health benefits of each dish.
 The Yellowtail Hwe. Raw Yellowtail with Cilantro Gazpacho served with Asian pear and yuja pearls.
The sea urchin within a Korean Seaweed Rice with Crispy Quinoa.
We chose the three-course tasting, starting with the Yellowtail Hwe appetizer, which was a beautiful presentation of raw yellowtail in a light and perfectly spiced green cilantro gazpacho soup. According to Jessie, "herbs, like cilantro, are a great way to season a dish to incorporate flavor without adding unnecessary amounts of fat, sodium, or a significant amount of calories."

In fact, she explained that "Cilantro is thought to have anti-microbial properties – and therefore may serve as a natural defense against salmonella, which is maybe why cilantro is often added when cooking fish like yellowtail. Cilantro is also a good source of phytonutrients and flavonoids, which are believed to have antioxidant (anti-cancer) properties."
The Spicy Kalguksu with clams, garlic and jalapeno.
The Herb Soojebi. Hand-picked noodles in a spicy shellfish broth, topped with bacon bits.
Then we tried three different dishes from the rice/noodle section of the menu. We started with the sea urchin within a Korean Seaweed Rice with Crispy Quinoa. This crunchy, cultural composite was Jessie's personal favorite. She explained that quinoa is a complete protein – meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids that the body requires while seaweed is rich in minerals like iodine, calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron, potassium and high in vitamin B.

Then we tried the Spicy Kalguksu, a traditional Korean handmade knife-cut wheat flour noodle steeped in an intensely spicy broth flavored with clams, a hint of garlic, and jalapeno. Even this incredibly flavorsome noodle soup dish ranked high in heart health. Garlic's medicinal properties potentially inhibit cancer development and protect against heart disease.

Then, onto my personal favorite, the more spicy Herb Soojebi, a soup with soft hand-picked noodles swimming in a well-balanced, spicy shellfish broth.
The Black Cod with Soy-Pepper Marinade. Black cod is marinaded with soy sauce, red pepper flakes and served over braised Korean radish, green beans and garnished with crispy cod skin.
The arctic char with sabayon. Steamed char is garnished with pickled grapes, pomegranate seeds and fingering potatoes. They accompany crumbles of gruyere cheese, white kimchi and douse it with sabayon.
Although Yim's innovative dishes are very much Seoul originals, there is a strong modern American undercurrent that ties everything together. This is most visible in the seafood dishes, like the crispy fillet of black cod infused in a soy-pepper marinade sauce. Or the arctic char with a unique combination of kimchi and sabayon sauce.

The desserts are equally as exquisite, two of the favorites being the sweet Pumpkin Amaretto Panna Cotta with a cinnamon crumble, and the strawberry cremeux complemented with a refreshing bay leaf sorbet and a light spinach sponge cake.

Jungsik's service was impeccable. It's clear that each waiter is thoroughly trained to understand the unique combination of ingredients that make up each dish.

2 Harrison St
(between Hudson St & Staple St)
The Pumpkin Amaretto Panna Cotta.
The strawberry cremeux .
Another top-notch Tribeca establishment, Mehtaphor, although smaller and more casual than Jungsik, is nonetheless inspiring in its own right. This is Mumbai-born Jehangir Mehta's second restaurant (he also owns Graffiti in the East Village). The ambiance is modern and elegant yet the mood is casual and relaxed. Jehangir takes Southeast Asian and Indian staples and assimilates them into more contemporary, eclectic tastes.

I was privileged to dine with with my friend from India, Sudhir Kandula (you may recognize him from America's Next Great Restaurant), who was able to offer more insight into some of our favorite dishes, such as Chaat Vegetable dumplings sprinkled with crispy noodles. Sudhir explained that this is Jehangir's modern interpretation of the common Indian street snack. His is more refined, light and flavorful.

Our second favorite dish, the tofu steamed in banana within a coriander chutney sauce, is Jehangir's modern, lighter, and more sophisticated take on a popular fish dish within the southernmost states of India, called Kerala. We both agreed that most of Jehangir's dishes are luring in their own right, and Mehtaphor is definitely worth another visit.

130 Duane St
(between Church St & Broadway)
Tofu steamed in banana with a coriander chutney sauce.
A recap of The Lucky Rice Festival. At the Epicurean Cocktail Feast, hundreds of thirsty (and inevitably) hungry New Yorkers filtered into the Bowery Hotel for an evening focused on tasting the most innovative and exotic cocktails, and dishes that paired well with each libation. We jumped from one Asian country to the next, savoring a variety of unique flavors and textures.

Some of my favorite tastes from the evening:

Macao Trading Co.'s Drunken Dragon Milk — a thick combination of Green tea vodka, young coconut puree, lime juice, and pandam leaf syrup with Thai basil leaves and homemade Macao five spice bitters. This paired well with the succulent Peri Peri Braised Shortribs with a rich African spiced Peanut sauce.

Acme's Nam Som Kun — a mixture of Bombay Sapphire East Gin with lemongrass, a dollop of cilantro, chili, spring onion, and fresh Mandarin juice. This sweet and spicy cocktail paired well with their spring pea ravioli with pickled carrots and pea tendrils under a lemongrass sauce and a whey foam.

The Beagle's Miso Honey — a mixture of Bombay Sapphire East Gin with honey, miso, fresh yumi, Hops bitters, and Sangha paired well with both the Beagle's Spiced Boar Chili with crispy Shrimp Chips and JBird Cocktail's Umami Burger Slider with pickle and citrus daikon slaw and a house-smoked tamari soy sauce.
Acme's Nam Som Kun. The Beagle's Miso Honey.
Acme's spring pea ravioli.
Macao Trading Co.'s Peri Peri Braised Shortribs. The Beagle's Spiced Boar Chili.
JBird Cocktail's Umami Burger Slider.
On Sunday evening, The Lucky Rice festival held one of its most ambitious and popular events in Dumbo. The Night Market was packed with hungry New Yorkers fighting their way through the crowds to sample dishes from some of the best Asian restaurants in New York City, that is until they ran out of food (and unfortunately, MANY did early on).
The scene at The Night Market.
Here are some of the delicious dishes I sampled:

Cookshop's Cold Sesame Noodles with dried tofu, chili, garlic, ginger and cucumber.

Qi's Gang-Teh-Poh, a Tamarind red curry with pork belly with a Thai morning glory sauce served over jasmine rice.

Redfarm's succulent Kowloon Filet Mignon Tart.

Kibo's Hockens Robya with a sweet Yakitori sauce.

Maharlika's unique Filipino Tapsilog (a marinated skirt steak) with garlic fried rice and fried eggs.
Cookshop's Cold Sesame Noodles.
Qi's Gang-Teh-Poh.
Kibo's Hockens Robya with a sweet Yakitori sauce.
Maharlika's Filipino Tapsilog.