Dinner begins at Gori, the tasting menu chef’s counter that opened this month above Anto, a high end Korean steakhouse in New York’s Midtown East, with the presentation of ingredients in a lavish Cartier chest. How to take this: a bit showy, too quintessential East Side? But once the ten courses start to appear, the luxe introduction makes sense. Chef Jeong Muk Kim, formerly of Myomi in Seoul, the youngest chef to earn a Michelin star in Korea, joined this nearly year old restaurant in November and uses strictly elite ingredients such as the caviar, uni and Wagyu in the chest. Even more important: the creations he produces from them for the ten seat counter have flavors so fully developed and enticing that they immediately set up anticipation for the next course.
All seats were taken even on a frigidly cold night in New York, evidence of the popularity of high level Korean food that cultural observers have linked to the worldwide popularity of Korean culture in general from pop music to TV. But the simpler explanation is that the dishes here are both beautiful and-not always the case-incredibly delicious.
The procession starts off with crisp rolls of truffles and shiitake mushrooms, crunchy and filled with umami rich flavors. It then moves on to a salmon pink crab shell as the base for a blend of Dungeness crab, smoked trout roe, pinenut velouté and the Hokkaido uni from the Cartier case; winter Hamachi with finger lime, seaweed and caviar; aged duck from the Hudson Valley roasted with honey and served with duck pate, sunchokes, shallots, artichokes, soybean paste, daikon, grapefruit and caramel and Korean beef Wagyu with ginseng, black garlic and eggplant. Even something that sounds so simple, Cornish Hen Noodle Soup, is a luscious blend of flavorful broth, ginseng, cubes of Cornish hen and abalone and silky noodles. And all take place in a darkened, moody space that is calm and serene.
Downstairs, the steak house also overseen by the chef is a very different scene: lively, buzzy with a pop music soundtrack. But the quality is on the same level as upstairs. A la carte options include oysters with Gochujang, a spicy/sweet sauce of fermented red chili paste, giant Carabinero shrimp with yuzu Gochujang cocktail sauce and grapefruit, the classic stir fried beef dish Bibimbap and a selection of meats prepared on the bronze grill in the center of the table.
What most people seem to order, though, is described as Our Premium Chest (LV Series), a selection showcased in a Vuitton chest containing oysters, duck and two types of prime beef. The full lineup includes a starter of the oysters and Carabinero shrimp followed by a caviar course distinguished by crisp potato cakes as a base that are good enough to eat on their own. A platter of Hudson Valley duck roasted with smoked honey follows and then a trio of meats grilled by a server: ribeye, marinated short ribs and Wagyu accompanied by an array of sauces and side dishes. You think you can’t eat any more but when a dessert offering of ice cream and banana mousse arrives, you do. When the food is this good, it’s impossible to turn anything down either on the street level or the counter upstairs.