Friday, January 21, 2022

Experience Review: Atomix x Central Restaurante (1/20/2022)

There's something universal about a good story -- not only are they engaging and provide an experience through the eyes of the protagonist, the best stories do something a little bit more, providing a set of context and history that would often be overlooked. 

Atomix always excelled in the art of storytelling, and their collaboration with Central is where they are able to exhibit this talent to the full degree. The personal story telling of JP and Ellia in their experiences in Peru, and how it all comes together with the team at Central provided an incredible presentation of the elevations of the two countries. 

Display greeting you to the incredible diverse ingredients of Peru

You're greeted with these incredible maps of both countries as you enter -- an incredible surprise for me, as I thought the menu would be more Peru driven. 

We pre-selected our wine bottles before our meal -- with a help of the friend who helped obtain this reservation. The wine pairings ended up being spot on with the meal as a whole. 

2008 Domaine Huet and the 1997 Lafon gracing the meal as the Whites. The Chenin Blanc paired incredibly with all the courses from Peru, while the the Lafon showed itself with the seafood driven courses from Korea. The Le Mont grew a bit of acidity providing a nice structure over time, while the Lafon opened vibrantly, and slowly evolving into a fattier texture over time, showing effervescence by the end, accompanied with a slight sweetness and caramel accompanied by lasting minerality and subtle fruit.  

Sea Lettuce, Razor Clams, Espirulina. It's like a crispy pork skin, except not. The razor clams and the algae added some textures and colors to elevate.  

Pen shell clam, Makgeolli, Hamcho. Korean Flounder, Calabash, Squid Ink. The Flounder with the squid ink was a flavor profile I didn't quite expect out of Atomix -- much bolder than my experience last fall. The texture that keeps on giving the more you chew. The clam was a bit more in line with expectations.

You would think these are shaved truffle tarts, but it's actually dehydrated beef heart. What! 

Hallabong, Golden eye Snapper, Gamtae. Fish + Gamtae being a classic combination at this point, but still an incredible bite, especially a slight hint of citrus coming from the Hallabong. Too bad we weren't allowed to eat the plates.

Cassava, Yuca, Jaimaica Scoby. Pretty incredible bite, like a fried potato but a lot more dense with a more "rough but in an amazing way" texture. 

Dallae (wild onion), Shrimp, Yuza. The Yuza kick providing a nice element to what could be considered the greatest dimsum shrimp dumpling of all time. The shrimp crackers really add to the view. 

The alternating experience between Peru and Korea provides an interesting back and forth -- the dishes from Central providing a texture driven through the complexity of the incredible diversity of grains, while Atomix providing textures and fat from the sea. Just having the courses of Central might have proved to be a more studious experience, and the courses from Atomix provides a counterbalance that helps you bounce back and forth, allowing you to experience each course's complexities like it was still the first course.

2003 Michel Lafarge, Clos des Chenes. Took a bit to open up, showing great aged fruit, and a mix of tight violets with a bit of minerality. Showed incredibly in the later courses. 

Diversity of Corn, Elderberry, Kiwicha

Gawamegi, Miyeok, Buchu. Marked the beginning of where this meal dialed up to eleven, hitting home runs one after another. The Dashima ice cream providing multiple elements to the dish, first providing a counter texture, and then melting into the broth into something integrated. The whole restaurant started becoming louder from this point on, with a lot of "this is fucking good" being thrown around at the restaurant. What good is decency when our brains are fried from all the mindblowing going on anyway?

My favorite course from the Central team for the night -- Loche squash, River shrimp, Limo aji. Incredible pairing with the white Burgundy, really allowing it show the wine off. The shrimp innards(?) in the squash proving for a surprise as you dive deep into it. 

The first bite of Chungjookjang had a bit of funk that I didn't expect, but overall it was on the level at Momofuku Kawi a few years ago. The Adironak Potato on the Chunggukjang was a solid choice. The Gosari/Bamboo/Dubu Rice was rich while still showing off individual texture. Increidble showing with the Lafarge.

Scallops, Sargassum, Yuyo. Comforting in the familiarity, but still provides a shocking amount of surprises in terms of how it all comes together. The layers of textures from each individual pieces add up to something greater than the parts. 

Wild Turbot, Chrysanthemum, Moo

Pork Belly, Ollucos, Porcon Mushrooms. Pork Belly and the sauce is hidden on the layer underneath. The sauce accompanying the 14 hour braised pork belly was really something, I've never thought of sauce as something that can add a layered textural element on its own, since it physically probably does not. But it does that here. The dining room started hitting singularity at this point, with people calling that witchcraft is going on, and people loss for words just going "This is fucking good" more frequently than expected. I'm having trouble at this point describing the courses since I feel like I need to keep escalating. Words such as "amazing" or "incredible" seem to be losing their meanings and I start to regret using those words so loosely in the past since I'm running out of way to describe this meal. Welp.

Hanwoo is hanwoo, but the Deodeok doing some work adding a nice textural element to a piece of beef that continually tries its best to melt in your mouth.

Cactus, Cabuya, Chirimoya. This course can easily be someone's love language, especially when the sauce is served. Refreshing at first bite, but you're struct by the complexity of flavors and textures by the last bite. 

Korean pear, Omija tea, Sikhae. Best shaved ice I've had. The pecans that surprise you at the bottom of the bowl, kind of blows your mind. Then you're sad that you finished your bowl. Then you drink the Omija tea they serve with it, and then your happiness and faith in humanity is restored.

"Sorcery is afoot", someone on the other side of the counter yelled. And they were right, cacao is magic.

Angelica, Jujube, Potato

I think I used the incredible a lot on this post, since I purposefully continually edited that word out whenever I wrote it. But I'm incredibly glad to have been part of this magical storytelling experience. Food like this can tell stories that words can't easily tell, possibly something a bit more primal, and that we're really bad at describing things, and the more we attempt to describe these things with words, the more they lose their meaning.

The culmination of storytelling when the seafood courses popping off really hit some singularity of sorts. It's been a while where I was able to experience a room full of people who were excited by the same dishes at the same time, almost as if we experienced one of the greatest peaks of our lives together. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Restaurant Review: Atomix (9/17/2021)

Opening Thoughts

Many restaurants can be seen as a sum of what their dishes express. The best ones make their courses memorable, interesting, and offer something unique, as they try to make an indelible mark on your memory with their signature, normally something rich, flavorful, and impactful. 

Compared to these signatures, none of the individual dishes at Atomix seem to be especially remarkable. Rather than making its mark with showstoppers, the courses simply flow, as if it's telling a story of Junghyun and Ellia Park's experience with the seasons and the places and the ingredients found within. 

The Courses

Pumpkin crispy, Sorghum, Foie gras, Finger lime

Striped beakfish, Black truffle, Yuza, Yangha ginger.

Part of what helps the dishes flow is that the flavors aren't particularly assertive. For example, the truffle in the beakfish doesn't overwhelm, but adds to the layers created by the Yuza (yuzu) creme fraiche and the ginger, bringing a savory earthiness. 

Sweet shrimp, Eggplant, Tomato, Salmon roe

At the core of of the sweet shrimp dish, is an eggplant layered with king crab innards. Although the ingredients on their own would be delightful in texture, specific additions help turn the dish into something more akin to a spectrum despite the distinct textures -- the doenjang balancing the king crab innard, the dashima and the fermentation leading the tomato gel, and the sweetness of the shrimp highlighted from it all. 

The overall seafood courses feel quite rich, and although there's  a bit of sourness and acidity offered at each course to balance, a bit of wine goes a long way for these courses. We brought two bottles of wine for the occasion ($100 per bottle, 2 bottles per party -- I'm still praying that they will allow more than two bottles for larger parties!), and the champagne we brought (a 2008 Louis Roederer Cristal) worked extremely well with these courses -- as it offered a precise and yet potent glass that played off its minerality with the courses richness and salinity. The champagne worked its way until the Filefish course.

The second bottle we brought (2005 Nicolas Potel Clos Saint-Denis) was brought out for the songyi (Matsutake) course -- one of the dishes I was most looking forward to.

Songyi, King crab, Quail egg, Galangal broth

The wine paired surprisingly well with the dish, the earthiness from both parties to highlight the other elements of each other. The crab, the quail egg, and broth was excellent -- although it was quite disappointing that the songyi's flavor was extremely understated for the dish -- almost as if it was only added to the dish to add a bit of flavor and texture, elevating the King crab.

The course was when I noticed that a lot of the ingredients that one would expect would play a bigger role -- for example, the truffle and the songyi, only served a secondary role, serving to highlight the beakfish and the king crab. 

Butterfish, Gochugaru, Sesame seed

The observation became quickly reversed as soon as I realized it -- where the proteins began to highlight the condiment they were served with. 

This Butterfish dish was interactive, as the fish, the foam, the caviar all allowed the dish to hit wide spectrum of flavors. However, it was almost as if the dish was made to highlight the gochugaru, as the  softness of the Butterfish and the sweetness of the sauce, and the flavors of the caviar all ended with the spice.

Green circle chicken, Ehwaju, Popcorn, Black currant

The chicken serves as the canvas that the Ehwaju puree bounces from, encouraged by the currant. The focus was less on the chicken, but on the Ehwaju -- much like the unripe blueberry seems to be the focal point of the pork rack. 

The Huckleberry dish served as a great palate cleanser and a great lead up to my favorite dish of the night, the Pine nut ice cream.

Pine nut ice cream, Cinnamon curd, Pine cone

This probably stands to be one of the best desserts I've had this year -- the attempts of putting pine nuts in ice cream and making it stand out fully pays off, as it really does capture the many charms of pine nut -- unveiling the particular oily nuttiness that plays off the syrups and the cinnamon, reminiscent of Sujeongwa, but with pine nuts as the dominant character. 

Some Thoughts

The overall experience is extremely personable. Whether it be from the staff that makes an effort to get to know you, choosing your utensils at the start of your meal (we didn't get do this, as we ran a little late), and from the cards that carry with it the chef's story and experiences -- it adds a lot of homeliness that almost feels lacking in a big city. Rather than focusing on big dazzling experiences, Atomix seems to focus on the little things that elevate the experience.
Meaning that rather than slapping you with combinations of truffles, carbs, fats, and salt to leave an impression, Atomix promotes nuance and subtlety. Much of the use of their sauces and seasoning seems easy to miss, especially without reading the story and ingredient cards provided with every course. There's a heavy use of age -- the jangs (Korean condiments that involve fermenting), preserving, and other ferments are found all throughout the meal. These ferments either balance or accentuate, and observing how these ingredients are impacted by these choices are a delight. 

A menu that's focused on such nuances are a rarity. Meaning that an excellent wine can carry itself throughout the meal -- making the corkage an extremely good opportunity, although the pairings also seem extremely thoughtful and interesting. 

However, while the food pairs well with the wine, the food does not always seem to pair well with one another. Much of the courses of Atomix come in pairs such as the Filefish with the Dubu (Tofu), the Butterfish accompanied by the veal sweetbread, or the Chicken dish soothed out with the Jook. Sometimes they're meant to be banchan (side dishes), sometimes they're meant to be the carbohydrate addition, but at best, they work well as separate dishes, and at worse, they overwhelm each other. The worst offender being the Filefish with the Dubu, with the richness of the Filefish liver overwhelming the nectarine and sea urchin with the Dubu, to the point where the ingredients seemed wasted. Jook in general needs a bit of salt and spice to eat it with, and having it as as separate dish with the Flounder sikhae would have made great use of both courses, rather than them playing second fiddle to the Chicken and Pork Rack. 

A Short Summary

Atomix feels like a picture book, where the dishes served as the illustrations. It depicts a story of the seasons and the ingredients found within, and while there were moments where some of the ingredients could have done more, the overall story makes up for it all. 

Overall Rating: B+: Would return frequently. A thoughtful experience that offers something new. Would love to see how the restaurant evolves with the seasons and with time.

PS: Sorry for the lack of posts -- there's a lot of thoughts to organize and compose regarding what I want to express in terms of tea currently. Soon!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Restaurant Review: Jungsik (7/21/2021)

There definitely once was a time where Jungsik could describe itself as "New Korean" and make claims about how their understanding of Korean cuisine is "modern and unique", but now, Jungsik is a conceptual fossil, useful as a historical point of view at a time where restaurants couldn't fully express Korean flavors and nuances. 

Although my visit was rather disappointing in terms of technical execution, the concepts displayed in the Signature Menu is rather unique when viewed at a time period where food was more French-centric -- perhaps the 2000s into early 2010s, but there's little excitement when encountering cuisine like this in modern age, especially when visited under the premise that this is supposed to be "New Korean". 

At a time where there's much more expressive Korean high cuisine, this iteration of Jungsik's menu feels more like a French restaurant trying to elevate itself with an accent of generic Korean -- something that will lead any well dined eater with a lack of excitement and satisfaction, especially at the price point. This is quite disappointing, as previous interpretation of the menu do look like they were much more expressive.

The dinner started off with quite a bit of excitement -- I was excited by the concept! The server presented five bites -- telling us that these were the "Chef's take on Korean side dishes (banchan)" -- perhaps the restaurant prepared themselves as presenting themselves more Korean than they are, because they were best described as five distinct courses that were quite unique and good on their own (other than the shrimp wonton, which honestly was so generic it had no business being served like that). There is a bit of dishonesty when beef tartar on bread, egg custard, what's essentially ceviche, shrimp wontons, and what could be described as the best savory palate refreshing cannoli-esque bite is described as  someone's take on Korean side dishes -- why so grossly and horribly misrepresent, when the bites are amazing on their own? This was extremely disappointing representation of some exciting "mini tasting menu" that started off our meal. 

The caviar dish was quite excellent and I loved the presentation, as if it's in an oyster shell -- it was a great combination of flavor and texture that you can happily consume, with an ample serving size that you really can't complain too much about.

The scallops... were okay. I don't know if beets were the best choice, but it was enjoyable and provided good contrast. What was not okay, was probably next dish.

Conceptually, this octopus is a great idea -- crispy on the outside, juicy with the right tension on the bite, and served with a very rich and tasty sauce that you can easily imagine when you think of "Korean sauce". Technically, this dish felt quite flat, as the octopus could be best described as "flaccid", seeming dead and more like eating overcooked white fish, rather than eating octopus. 

It honestly felt like the Branzino tried to be much more than it was -- it was a tasty but quite oversalted dish, leaving behind quite a long salty finish after biting through it. The branzino was much more firm than the previous octopus, almost making me wish the textures between the last two dishes were swapped. The textures overall was quite lacking in this dish, although the flavor was well present.

The kimbap is quite famous in Korea when talking about Jungsikdang -- was surprised to hear that the Baby Banana was considered the Signature for Jungsik in America. This was an extremely fun dish to eat and consume, I kind of wish that they'd just do a tasting menu just on variations of this kimbap, or sell it at their bar. I would visit quite often just for that. Although the seaweed can get quite overwhelming, the flavors and textures are quite something on this dish, and the added sauce add to the experience.

There's something "off" about the Galbi dish -- the flavor of the generic marinate overwhelms the meat so much that you can barely taste the meat even to its very core. Perhaps it was meant to be this way, but when consuming what's essentially the most "common" Korean flavor in a Michelin two star -- you have to expect more. Was there really nothing they could have done to elevate this? How about adding more veggies on what goes in a ssam? Or making the galbi a bit "crisper" so it has a more texture layer? Adding something to the rice? There's so many things that could be done in this dish to help elevate that something ended up being the most generic-but-something-feels-off expression of the most "famous" Korean flavor. 

The most inspiring part about the dessert was probably that they made something look like a banana, but flavor wise, it's nothing quite exciting. 

Final Thoughts

I'm happy I finally got to check out Jungsik -- it's been on my bucket list for quite some time. And yet, perhaps it's all the Korean places that I've been to before -- that makes Jungsik feel quite dated and disappointing. Few of the cocktails were great, there's definitely some highlights in the food, but it is so conceptually disappointing when going in with the expectation that this is supposed to be representative of "New" Korean food. 

Overall Rating: C+

Do not recommend, but happy I checked it out. Would not return without a strong compelling reason.