Finally, a Korean restaurant breaks into my top 10 restaurants list. I had a very impressive meal at Jua, the new fine dining Korean restaurant run by Chef Hoyoung Kim, who used to be the executive chef at Jungsik. The nine course Jua tasting menu consisted of Korean dishes that I grew up eating, only fancier and better. The cooking was on par with what we expect from a highly esteemed Western restaurant. It makes me proud of how far Korean food has come in extending its reach far beyond just the humble bbq restaurant (which is still awesome) and joining the ranks of elite institutions, a status that tends to be reserved for the fancy European place or the pricey sushi omakase.
The dish I still think about is the jjajangmyeon noodles. Jjajangmyeon is a black bean Chinese noodle dish that only Koreans know about, which is unfortunate. I used to eat this all the time growing up, particularly as part of a post-church Sunday lunch ritual. It always disappointed me that you can’t really get a good bowl of it in Manhattan. But now you can, at Jua. It took a lot for me to restrain myself and not just slurp those saucy, savory noodles like I did as a child, but the fancy hints of truffle were effective reminders that I should take some time to enjoy them.
Another one that I think about a lot is the smoked yellowtail. There was such a nice balance of clean, light flavors with this one. The cold smoked fish was pure enough to eat on its own like a sashimi, but the dollop of cream sauce laced with yuzu and peppers made it even more perfect.
Those two dishes are the ones I think about the most, but all the others cross my mind too. The first bite, a caviar kim bap roll, was simple but stunning. Again, it’s a careful exercise in perfect balance. There was caviar and sea urchin in this bite, and a combination like this might risk being a wet and fatty one, but it was crisp and had just the right amount of salt to it. I was surprised to see a roasted sweet potato on my plate served with homemade butter, but when I ate it, it made a lot of sense.
The succession of fish, poultry and meat was also a strong one. I was a little excited when I saw the filet of Korean flounder on my plate. You normally don’t come across this fish in the States, but it was something I ate pretty frequently growing up.
Duck isn’t commonly used in Korean cuisine like it is in Chinese cuisine, so I had no frame of reference when trying the dry aged duck course. The duck, which comes from Long Island, is aged for two weeks and comes served with Swiss chard and a red onion puree. This was the one dish that tasted mostly Western in flavors, and it was definitely competitive with the top duck dishes on offer in the city.
What’s a Korean meal without some bbq? Jua doesn’t disappoint and concludes the savory dishes with an excellent galbi, which comes served with a side of palate-cleansing water kimchee. I only wish there had been more of it, or an option to double down on the galbi portions.
The desserts were probably the parts I don’t feel as strongly about. The omija-pear was refreshing and tasty in the way that a sorbet is. The charcoal infused ice cream tasted exactly as advertised, which was more interesting than truly delicious. But otherwise the Jua tasting menu really hit on all the cylinders and that’s why it has my vote for one of the best openings of 2020.
36 E. 22nd St
(between Broadway and Park Ave South)
New York, NY 10010