Seoul : Rethinking Korean Cuisine at Jung Sik Dang

Jung Sik Dang - Doksan Park

8th December 2012.
Seoul, South Korea.
Sunlight peer through the woods of Doksan Park, a quaint little public space dedicated to a revolutionary of the Korean independence movement. The fading snow barely covers this part of Seoul in a clear sunny day, yet the winter cold still bites and the roads were wet from the melting snow.

Jung Sik Dang - Table

Round the corner of Doksan Park, we came upon a the jewel we have been seeking, a much raved about, the much talked about, cutting edge of restaurant that will make us rethink about the Korean cuisine we already know. This elusive, contemporary Korean restaurant is none other than Jung Sik Dang which has its roots in cosmopolitan New York.

Jung Sik Dang - Interior

Despite its fame, one wouldn’t notice Jung Sik Dang with its mundane looking lift lobby and the Spartan exterior of the building. Enter Jung Sik Dang and you will find a rather minimalist interior, its classy and at one end, the windows framed the snow dusted pine trees of Doksan Park, the interior don’t scream for attention at Jung Sik Dang, it’s a stage for the food, nothing pretentious and elegant.

Jung Sik Dang - Exterior

Service wise it was rather formal, the maître’d check your reservation, the waiters asked whether we would like sparkling or still water, and every dish came with an explanation in fluent English. It was a huge departure from the causal bistro atmosphere of Okitchen.

Jung Sik Dang - Menu

Glancing through the menu, the dishes sounded familiar : Bibim, Yukhoe, Fried Oyster and descriptions were simple too. No “emulsion of foie gras” or “compote of basil jam”….Jung Sik Dang does not pretend to be sophisticated, the food was kept simple and I felt the most amazing thing about its food is how it made me re-think about the Korean dishes I had before.

Jung Sik Dang - Amuse Bouche

The meal started off with a amuse bouche of chicken breast and pickled clam with contrasting textures. Both of which were decent but not extraordinary. Qian Rou who could not take meat had the Bibim Salad. Qian Rou describes her amuse bouche: “strong hint of mint. Mozzarella cubes, tomato, gelatin, sorbet and mint. Vaguely like an Italian salad but with unidentifiable crispy bits which adds depth. Good texture, sorbet also added a nice flavor. But not amazing, I would say”

Jung Sik Dang - Mushrooms

It was followed by our choice of appetizers, I had the Mushroom (Poached Egg, Kimchi Puree and Parmesan Foam), a rather cheesy and savoury appetizer with but I could barely taste the mushroom. The overall feel isn’t too different from a good soft boiled egg with soy sauce and white pepper.

Jung Sik Dang - Fried Oysters

However it is not as special as the Fried Oyster (Seaweed Powder, Anchovy Aioli) which my fellow diner Qian Rou had. She says: 

“What Oyster? Coated in seaweed powder and squid ink, not sure what squid ink adds through. Served with pickled celery and radish slices, rocket, seaweed, brussel sprout leaves and an unidentifiable sour sauce. Piled up on a fork and eaten, the pickes balanced out the strong flavor of the seaweed. The oyster, however, is totally drowed out except for the chewy texture from fried. Overall, good. Yet still not amazing.”

Jung Sik Dang - Green Pepper Bread

After our appetizers, we were being served a petite loaf of Korean Green Pepper Baguette. In short, a rather spicy bread.

Jung Sik Dang - Sea Squirt

Our initial choice of Sea Urchin was unavailable for the day and the chef has replaced it with Sea Squirt. This dish requires an additional 5000 KRW and it is probably one of the most memorable dishes I had for the entire meal. The Sea Squirt (Fried Millet, Kimchi) is a re-interpretation of the Bibimbap. Instead of the gochujang sauce they used seaweed puree and sea squirt. The end result is a familiar tasting dish with rich unami flavours. The fried millet also added some crunch to the overall texture, like shreds of carrots do for a traditional bibimbap.

Jung Sik Dang - Sea Squirt

Another fellow diner had the Duck Noodles instead….a very nicely done duck noodles with a hearty soup. Once again, unfamiliar ingredients, yet very familiar dish, and in this case, they noodles reminded us of a good duck rang myeon.

Jung Sik Dang - Duck Noodles

And then we come to the mains, I had the Pork Jowl (Assorted Pickled Vegetables, Trumpet Mushrooms), a signature of Jung Sik Dang. Four very tender pieces of pork jowl with its crispy skin sits on an oversized white plate…to which the waiter poured a “traditional” sweet and spicy Korean sauce over it. The sauce is not too different from a good light soy sauce. While the meat itself was very tender almost like a really good wagyu, they had this watered or “drenched” texture.

Jung Sik Dang - Pork Jowl

Qian Rou had the Crispy Snapper (Herb Sujebi, Gonyak). Gonyak is Korean for konnyaku and sujebi is hand torn noodles/gnocchi. She commented that the snapper’s skin “was scored and fried till curled and crispy, like bonito flakes. Fish was tender and moist, thank goodness.”

Jung Sik Dang - Crispy Snapper

It was served with Korean green pepper sauce, pickled onions, a sliced scallop, garlic and gonyak. She also mentions that you get to:

play around with your food in different combinations, the textures fit and contrast excellently. The pepper sauce is spicy but not in an overbearing way. The scallop, however. I’m starting to think the chef can’t handle mussels and shellfish very well.

Jung Sik Dang - Crispy Duck

Besides the snapper and pork jowl, another fellow diner also ordered the Crispy Duck (Gochujang Sauce, Rice Cake and White Kimchi).

Jung Sik Dang - Mascarpone Cheesecake

For desserts, both of my fellow diners went for the Mascarpone Cheesecake (Mango Glaze, Chrysanthemum Ice Cream)

Qian Rou says, “It was good. Like, really good. The cake was light, like a mousse and went well with everything else served; the pear, mango and caramel in the cake, the chrysanthemum ice cream, the lemon sorbet and the biscuit bits. We were worried when we saw that two other tables who had ordered cheesecake didn’t finish. And when a girl doesn’t finish her cheesecake, there is something wrong. But I get it. Tell a girl she is getting cheesecake and she expects fluffy cheesecake and most importantly…biscuit base. Yep. Not here. Which is not to say the cake wasn’t good, because it was. Just a little confusing too.”

Jung Sik Dang - Jang Dok

For myself, I ordered the Jang Dok (Jivara Latte Mousse, Chef’s Choice Filling : Red Pepper). Jang dok are huge earthen pots used to store kimchi and here it was literally presented as such. Nonetheless, this is one really good dessert, velvety smooth chocolate mousse with crunchy sugar crystals that represents hay and inside the jang dok it was a mildly spicy tingling gochujang mousse. The dessert went extremely well with my choice of Jeju Tangerine Tea which came with petite fours.

Jung Sik Dang - Tangerine Tea

Initially, I was underwhelmed by the overall experience, the food was good but not mind-blowing and everything tasted pretty normal.

Jung Sik Dang - Yukhoe

In retrospective, I think I got the hype in Jung Sik Dang now. It wasn’t unrecognizable molecular gastronomy that Jung Sik Dang is going for….but rather a re-interpretation and some experimentation with Korean cuisine. It attempts to present familiar Korean cuisine in unfamiliar ways…I kind of enjoyed the experience but in my humble opinion, there are still some rough edges to polish for Jung Sik Dang, perhaps that is the price of experimentation (a matter of trial and error).

Jung Sik Dang

649-7 Sinsadong
Gangnam-gu, Seoul
+82 2 517 4654


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