Here’s another elevated Korean restaurant to add to your list–Soogil in East Village, opened by Soogil Kim, who used to be sous chef at some very fancy kitchens, including Daniel and Hanjan. If you’re a fan of the refined and modern Korean cooking at places like Oiji or Cote, then you’ll probably like Soogil’s food.Read More
It’s unheard of to see a traditional Korean restaurant operating in Manhattan outside of 32nd St, so imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon Tofu Tofu in Chinatown of all places. Not that taking the train up to Herald Square is all that inconvenient, but walking 10 minutes along Bowery to a Korean restaurant downtown has been the best thing ever. Of course, the meat here will not be on par with the bbq at a place like Kang Ho Dong Baekjong, but that’s ok. You come here because Tofu Tofu has a good selection of Korean favorites at very reasonable prices and it’s the only place downtown.Read More
Korean food is good for the soul and packs a heavy punch, but sometimes we want something with a lighter touch. For those of us who want to finish our jeongol hot pots with a little room to spare, you should probably walk past the main cluster of traditional restaurants in Ktown and head to Her Name is Han near Madison and 31st. You might miss it initially, because Her Name is Han doesn’t look like a traditional Korean restaurant. It has more in common with the picturesque, brick-wall eateries in West Village or Nolita, but once you notice the mostly Millennial-aged Koreans queuing up for a table, you’ll know you’re at the right place.Read More
I was feeling very nostalgic this weekend. I was craving a bowl of spicy korean ramen noodles, specifically the instant kind like Shin or Neoguri ramen. The bad thing about instant noodles is that they are full of sodium and MSG, which take all the fun out of eating them, so I had to come up with a plan B. When I browsed through the Instagram feed of Mokbar and saw page after page of ramen noodles in a bright and fiery red broth, I knew I had found the solution.Read More
High end Korean food is counterintuitive to the type of Korean food I grew up with. I would eat the food that my mom made me, or the meals that the church ladies would prepare every Sunday. The flavors in this type of homestyle prep are strong. The kimchee is intense, the mung bean daenjang is even more so. You can usually smell Korean food from a mile away, and when you see all the bright red and orange flavors on your plate, you know exactly what you’re in for.
Which is why I initially was violently opposed to restaurants that specialized in high-end Korean cooking. Korean food should be homey and inexpensive and a little messy to look at. Those were the signs that made it authentic, because that’s how my mom made it. But the trends in Korea are changing. The younger generation doesn’t always want to eat intensely marinated things all the time. They like cleaner, lighter flavors. And the whole foodie culture is big in Korea, so it makes sense that Koreans would adopt a modern, inventive approach to their own food.
On a recent trip to Korea, I had lunch at Yeon Ha Deung in Gangnam, and I was blown away by how good Korean fine dining could be. First of all, the space itself is beautiful. You feel like you’re entering an exclusive salon, and each party gets its own private room, so the luxurious tone is set from the very beginning. The service is also so much better, an improvement from the places in Ktown where the ajoomas can make you feel like the smallest person on earth. And most importantly, the refined and restrained cooking style is eye-opening. If we’re open to high-end and fast casual burger joints (Minetta Tavern $32 Black Label Burger vs. Shake Shack), then why not do the same for Korean food? There’s room for both the fancy and the humble.
The weekend lunch set menu here is a very good deal at 38,000 won (~$32). It comes with 5 courses, ban chan side dishes, a bowl of naengmyun noodles and dessert. Everything was so beautiful and delicate, and the progression of flavors from the mild to the strong was a gradual progression. The first course was a very light and mild soup, followed by a salad in bright yuzu dressing, and then a stunning presentation of raw fish “swimming” inside a culinary fish bowl.
For our mains, we had the pork bo ssam and the grilled steak. Bo ssam is usually a hearty affair, and restaurants in the States play that up with huge plates of fat slabs of pork belly ready for you to dig into. You get fewer pieces here, but the impact is no less. The payoff is even bigger with the ground beef steak, which was my favorite course. Koreans really know how to treat their meat.
The naengmyun was so refreshing. I usually don’t like naenmyun in the States, as I find that the broth tastes too much like cucumbers and brine, but the naengmyun at Yeon Ha Deung went down quite easy. What I loved even more was that I wasn’t stuffed and paranoid that my breath smelled like garlic, because, let’s be honest, sometimes a Korean meal leaves you in that kind of a state. I might have to shell out a few more bucks for the experience, but it’s worth the money.
Yeon Ha Deung Restaurant
33, Seolleung-ro 152-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea, 06016