When I think of Korean food, my mind simmers about an assemblage of little sauces and dips with varying degrees of kimchee-ness surrounding those quirky little bronze barbecues draped with wafer thin medallions of beef, chicken or pork that sizzle and shrivel in direct contrast to my swelling appetite. And while New York can boast the gamut in Korean kitchens from laid-back to lavish, only two have earned a matching set of twin Michelin stars – Jungsik and Atomix – and both have benefited from the hands of master food scientist Junghyun Park. As an elevated second act after his highly popular, casual-minimalist bistro Atoboy, Park’s career-defining Atomix transcends far beyond esculent Korean cuisine while also challenging every notion of what dining out in New York City means.
The staunchly residential, tree-lined block of brownstone townhouses provides no clue that there may be a business – let alone a $250-a-plate, 11-course culinary tour de force – waiting within.
The multi-level, softly-lit, stone and beach wood tones exude a formal, understated yet unavoidably sexy, modernist elegance which completes the transition from Murray Hill to Seoul as you take one of 14 seats (only 8 during COVID) at the granite, U-shaped chef’s table. Aside from the astonishingly bespoke ceramic dish ware, the most surprising sight within the narrow, functional kitchen is the distinct lack of cooking staff. Chef Park and only 2 sous-chefs spend their entire day picking, prepping, poaching and plating for two sold-out nightly sittings.
Another refreshing contrast to most big ticket, chef’s table soirees is that each course is introduced by a decorative printed card that allows Park to share his personal perspective on what each dish means to him, while also listing the entire compliment of ingredients from glaze to garnish.
(In case you were wondering, there’s negligible risk of anyone rushing out to plagiarize his creations, as many of the ingredients are not just unavailable, but also largely unpronounceable).
The delightful team of dark grey, smock-wearing servers is yet another twist on other hoity-toity, multi-course tasting establishments. Taking their sociability and hospitality cues from Park’s wife and business partner Ellia, the fresh-faced group seems encouraged to share their jocular personalities. But make no mistake: even if the serving-staff refuses to take itself too seriously, the food is nothing but.
With quarterly rotating menus that depict the seasons, our selection of fundamentally fish-forward dishes featured many species imported from Japan, Scandinavia, Europe and of course Korea, exploring tastes, textures and radical flavor combinations seldom seen on other downtown menus. And by radical, I’m referring to equal parts brave and brilliant ingredient combinations like a flat meringue made from lemongrass supporting a morsel of Red seabream. Or a fried King crab donut with a salted strawberry ketchup and chili sauce.
A few other delectable standouts like the delicately battered Langoustine with a doenjang caramel, and an unbelievably umami Sea Urchin Juk (rice porridge) with spinach and jalapeño, or even the julienned Tilefish sashimi paired with aged Comte cheese sauce and quail eggs are a constant reminder of the depth and brilliance of Chef Park’s repertoire and prowess.
If “Ato” means “gift” in Korean, then Atomix is unquestionably the best gift of global flavor combinations ever to be bestowed upon this city.