March 21, 2024

50 Best and then some day 1: back to the sikdang

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After being back in Hong Kong for less than 3 days, I'm on the road again. This year's festivities for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants are being held in Seoul, and I've decided to come back to Korea for the first time since 2017 to check out the dining scene.

After being dropped off by the bus in front of the Parnas Tower at COEX, I wheeled my luggage across the street to check in to Shilla Stay Samsung across the street. It was now past 4pm and I hadn't eaten lunch, so I was kinda starving. I knew that dinner was less than 3 hours away, but I still needed to just get something in my stomach. So I strolled around COEX Mall for a little, and eventually made my way to the basement food hall at The Hyundai where I grabbed a deep-fried halibut cutlet. Not the lightest bite I could have chosen, but it would have to do.

I made my way to Jungsik for a return visit. I had given Chef Yim Jung-sik (임정식) some small gifts last year, and he was appreciative enough to ask me to pay his restaurant a visit. So I roped in Mikacina and Kutsuyama - who played carrier pigeons for me - as well as my local kohai (後輩) to make this a foursome.

The took the signature menu, with the accompanying wine pairing courtesy of the chef. This should be fun.

First up was the banchan (반찬), which came in 6 parts:

This was tofu with gamtae myeongnanjeot (감태명란젓) - fermented pollock roe mixed with seaweed. The flavors from the sesame oil were pretty prominent, and there were crunchy cubes of radish.

A thin slice of tuna was wrapped around some rice and topped with caviar.

The scallop tart came with some "fish sauce" and clam powder, and to me this tasted like mayo with katsuobushi (鰹節) powder. Good acidity here. Pretty nice.

Toast with yukhoe (육회) and truffle aïoli. That truffle oil was pretty damn strong.

The octopus was boiled before being (deep?-)fried, and served with gochujang (고추장).

Finally, there was the baesuk (배숙), or pear soup. A chilled, refreshing drink.

Caviar - the mackerel was definitely on the fatty and oily side, with some kaluga caviar on top. Underneath there was an emulsion made of (whisked?) pear, with some sauce flavored like dongchimi (동치미) so I definitely tasted both the acidity and the fermentation. Good to balance out the fatty fish and salty caviar, then...

King crab - the charcoal-grilled king crab pretty tasty, and the smoked butter sauce was definitely pretty smoky and also got that acidity thanks to the citrus fruit salsa.

The king crab achappam was very greasy, but certainly crispy and tasty.

The consommé made with crab shell was very good, with very clean flavors.

All in one gimbap (모듬 김밥) - I was dumb. When I saw "everything" I imagined one of those monster rolls like a giant futomaki (太巻き) where all the ingredients are stuffed inside, and that would make for one of those silly clickbait KOL pics. Alas, all the ingrediens were served separately on a plate, which included scallops topped with kombu (昆布) jelly and kimchi, and one is meant to construct one's own... 

...with the long roll of rice wrapped in seaweed. The sauce was made with shrimp powder and kombu.

With caviar.

With sweet shrimp.

With (fatty) tuna (belly).

With Korean beef yukhoe with pear.

With sea urchin topped with black sea salt.

Jogae juk (왕우럭 조개죽) - the rice was cooked with a soup made with shepherd's purse or naengi (냉이) and doenjang (된장). The topping included two types of clams - surf clams and Japanese horse clam (왕우럭 or 海松貝) - then some dried naengi powder. The surf clam, in particular, had a texture that was soft yet crunchy. The strips of kimchi in the porridge added a nice dose of acidity.

Ok dom (옥돔) - the texture of the tilefish was very nice, succulent yet retaining a springy texture. A little smoky, which was just right. Underneath we had yam, pumpkin, and sujebi (수제비), which was new to me and pretty nice.

For main course we had a choice of lamb or Hanwoo. When I came to the restaurant 7 years ago, I was aghast at how they overcooked the beef and wasted such a nice ingredient, so I opted for lamb tonight. From looking at my friends' overcooked beef, this was definitely the right decision...

Lamb - the lamb came like a roulade and was slow-cooked with butter and rosemary. As is obvious, the lamb was pretty fatty - and therefore very tasty. Underneath we had some nokdoo kimchi (녹두김치), made with mung beans and, I believe, some diced leeks.

Apple sorbet - WHY?! Why did they have to ruin a perfectly good apple sorbet with rosemary granita? No, the little balls of coconut gel couldn't save the day.

We had a choice of two desserts, but since I already had the little phallic statues on my first visit, I decided to have the other option today.

Carrot - yes, one had to "pull" the carrots out of the "soil"...

Carrot cake with cream cheese mousse. Served with a quenelle of black tea ice cream.

Kkae cone - sesame ice cream and dark chocolate, with vanilla cream on top.

Chocopie - the chef's own take on the popular Korean dessert. With Jeju Island barley powder, marshmallow, and Valrhona chocolate.

Chef Jungsik very kind offered the wine pairing for us.

Le Brun de Neuville Double Autolyse, dégorgée en Février 2021 - good complexity here.

Guccione 1920 - a blend of 2019 and 2020. Nose was pretty fragrant with notes of apricot and peach, as well as honey. Very ripe on the nose and kinda ripe on the palate, too.

2019 Els Jelipins Vi de Taula Rosat - a little sulfuric on the nose. Savory, toasty, and definitely bongwater.

2019 Serene Chardonnay Evenstad Reserve - this was really oaky and buttery, with vanilla and flinty notes.

2016 Luis Cañas Gran Reserva - nose came with lots of vanilla and coconut butter, really sweet fruit.

I was really happy to come back here, especially since it was the first time for Kutsuyama and also my kohai. Many thanks to Chef Jungsik for the VIP treatment.

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