After a lazy morning of coffee and shopping we speed walked (in heels for me) in the sweltering heat to Jung sik dang. We underestimated how far the restaurant actually was from our hotel, or maybe we underestimated the humidity. Nothing like arriving to a nice restaurant late, hot, and sweaty.
We were seated by the window and immediately ordered a couple glasses of white wine and a bottle of sparkling to cool down.
The lunch menu featured several options: a 4 or 5 course choice menu (50,000 / 80,000 KRW) or an 6 course Chef’s tasting menu called “From Jeju” (105,000 KRW). Since we wanted to try as much as we could, we both ordered different items off the choice menu and shared each dish.
To begin, an amuse bouche — a modern interpretation of banchan (반찬) or Korean side dishes served with every Korean meal.
While visually modern, the flavors were very traditionally Korean; beautiful bite-sized samplings of what was to come.
We chose octopus and tuna as our appetizers. Both were delicious though the tuna really stood out. It’s texture was unexpected — like a compressed, very dense, extra firm consistency and topped with tiny rice puffs that popped in your mouth with each bite.
From the “Rice” menu we chose pork belly and crab. Informally presented these dishes reminded us of elevated versions of the popular Korean dish, bibimbap (비빔밥) or mixed rice dish. Both dishes were warm and comforting — a home-style meal that one could eat every day. My preference was towards the crab dish which contained crispy crab, soft crab, and crab butter as part of the sauce.
We chose the sea bass and croaker as our “sea” options and the duck and pork jowl as our choices for “land.”
Then it was the part of the meal I was looking most forward to: dessert. We selected “modern choco” and “cherry blossoms version 2.”
The cherry blossom dessert blew me away.
Sometimes I think frou frou desserts become over-complicated quick, but this was perfectly balanced; bursting with flavor and yet so restrained. Fluffy cake, creamy dollops of whipped cream, cherry gelee with pockets of passionfruit and a spoonful of tangy cherry sorbet. Topped with a branch of dark chocolate — it was as beautiful to look at as it was to eat.
You can tell how much I loved it because I took about a zillion photos, as if somehow having multiple images of the dessert would preserve it’s flavor memory.
We ordered two cups of espresso before the final hurrah: a trio of post-dessert bite sized sweets to finish the meal. Once again, Korean flavors were very prominent. The middle bite was very similar to injeolmi, a type of Korean rice cake (tteok) rolled in powdered soybeans (it tastes like peanut powder to me). Traditional injeomi is made from glutinous rice and is very chewy. In this modernized version the rice cake portion melted in our mouths as if by magic.
It’s not normal for us to eat so fancy — we usually like to try one “nice” restaurant towards the end of a trip . The bulk of the time we prefer low key hole-in-the-wall street food type places. Restaurants like this are hard to come by in Korea, especially outside of Seoul (even within Seoul) so we figured it was as good a time as any to give it a try. We were glad we did — it made for a very memorable (and delicious) afternoon.
JUNG SIK DANG // ADDRESS: 83-24, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea // COST: Expensive. Approx $50 to $180 depending on lunch/dinner and the menu you select from. Wine pairings additional. // DESCRIPTION: Jung Sik Dank is commonly referred to as THE best restaurant in Korea with a #10 spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. It’s popularity has led to an opening of a sister restaurant in NYC which was awarded a Michelin star. The molecular gastronomy menu has been described as “modern Korean,” or “new-wave Korean,” which I would agree with — it didn’t taste “Asian Fusion” to me, it tasted very Korean. // NOTES: Make a reservation, especially for dinner service. The restaurant staff speaks English. // VERDICT: I think a lot of people (myself included) tend to shy away from frou frou places like this because they think the food won’t taste as good as it looks or that they won’t leave feeling full. The space was modern, elegant, yet comfortable, the staff warm and accommodating (they spoke both English and Korean) and the food was extremely refined yet bold and bright and comforting all at the same time. While I enjoyed our meal at Ryunique when you eat at Jungsik you can immediately tell the difference between the two restaurants. Every single item and every single flavor had a purpose here. But what I liked most was how the chef was able to interpret Korean food in an entirely new way, making it accessible to people who might have originally though they wouldn’t like Korean food all the while keeping the Korean flavors intact. It’s Korean food, and yet it’s not. After eating here I asked myself if this was good-for-Korean-fine-dining good or if it was good-for-NYC/SF-fine-dining-good. It definitely holds it’s own. Recommended. // TIP: This is my usual fine dining tip: lunch is a great way to try out a fancy restaurant for a fraction of the price. A four-course lunch menu with no additional add ons (like choosing the filet mignon for example) will only set you back 50,000 KRW. Still not cheap, but definitely more affordable.