mkgallery Best New Chefs 2019: Junghyun Park of Atomix in New York City
RIP the tasting-menu tap dance, those long, breathless pre-course lectures on the provenance of this and the intention of that and the infinite largesse of CHEF who spends his one day off foraging for meteorites in an ancient dry lake bed … or whatever. Instead, Junghyun Park has gifted us Atomix: a tasting menu for trying times, one that soothes and transports not with bullhorn but with brushstroke.
Atomix is Park’s follow-up to his first New York project, Atoboy. But where the latter trafficked in creative and casual banchan, Atomix cranks up the ambition, offering a luxurious interpretation of Korean royal court cuisine never before seen in the U.S. “At Atomix I am thinking about technique, fermentation, about the deep flavors of Korea,” says Park, who worked in London, Melbourne, Australia, and Seoul before moving to New York to help open the Michelin-starred Jungsik. “Korean food is getting popular now—the ssam, the gochujang—but it’s still very limited. I want to deliver more about the culture.”
Each course at Atomix arrives with a brief description and a flashcard. You could choose to flip it over and learn, for example, that “jeon” is a refinement of a peasant dish called gamjajeon—or you could simply give yourself over to the lacto-fermented potatoes, tricked out with yuzu and chiles, tangy cheese, and a wreath of hyssop, nasturtium, and mint. You might wish to simply admire the mottled ceramic that holds the twigim course—Korean blood sausage intensified with lardo and ginger and folded into perilla leaves. The whole story can wait until the next morning, when you flip through your stack of menu cards and discover the ceramic piece was made by Seoul potter Lee Neung Ho, whose proprietary “knocking” technique produced the unique stippled texture.
Park works within view of the tasting counter, all silence and grace, appearing in front of guests occasionally to add a flurry of horseradish or a pour of fragrant ginger leaf oil. At its best, his food occupies the uncanny space between tradition and progress, ancient and modern, all of it a torch song for the underrepresented flavors of the Korean peninsula.
At Atomix the choice is yours: Go deep or skate the shimmering surface. You’ll get the message either way.