Korean food is turning NYC on its head. There are the wonderful do it yourself BBQ places in Koreatown, the tried and true traditional that are always worth returning to and now some newer spots with a more contemporary focus and a bit of panache have joined the scene, like Her Name Is Han and Don’s Bogam. Gourmet experiences like Oiji and Jungsik opened people’s eyes to a whole other level of Korean cuisine, pitting gourmet Korean against any high end competition. It’s exciting. But now…we have the sublime, convivial, spectacular experience of Atoboy.
The entry way…
Atoboy is the first Korean restaurant to offer modern Korean Banchan style food. It’s small plates, essentially Korean side dishes to share, the kind of dishes usually offered at the buffet table but here they are the draw. The basic precept is that you order 3 dishes, lighter to more substantial from columns A, B & C and it’s a flat price of $36 per person, per three dishes. You may add as much food as you like at the a la carte prices, of $7, $9, $12 so there’s no need to feel pressured and start deal making at the table. We succumbed to greed though we really didn’t need to, it was just that good. And cards on the table? I ended up repeating two dishes.
It’s akin to being in an art gallery lost somewhere in time. Urban zen meets industrial polished peeling concrete, snappy hanging lights, a sea of wooden four tops and copper table accents. Somehow it feels cozy.
Service is warm, friendly and welcoming.
Atoboy was started by Chef Junghyun Park, a former Chef de Cuisine at Jungsik along with his manager wife Ellia Park, who’d previously been at Kajitsu, Maialino & Noreetuh. They wanted a kitchen where they could offer traditional Korean techniques featuring seasonal local ingredients but with their own modern take. Chef Park still combines a global roster of elements in his cooking but with his carefully considered plating and sophisticated, discerning hand – he showcases his Korea.
Iced corn silk tea. My Korean friend who dined with me said this can cure many ills and is not so easy to find well made.
Pop top sake! Plus you get to keep the glass. I’m planning for a full service.
Ohmine Junmai Sake. It had the scent and sweetness of white peaches, it’s inexpensive and was definitely fun to drink. Like a Jello pudding packet.
There were two of us and we shared our six choices. And then some. Starting with the amuse, extra crunchy seaweed nori chips, pickled and fermented vegetables and I knew the Parks were onto something.
Juicy littleneck clams are set on a bed of creamy avocado coulis, anchored by crunchy rice crackers and accented with the fiery spiciness of the gochugaru based sauce. It’s sensational and the fully constructed bite of hot, creamy, succulent clams against the texture of the cracker was resounding.
Well, this was something else. Eggplant with snow crab, tomato jelly and lemon. Any photo of it could not possibly convey the true depth and beauty of the flavors. The sweet crab is hidden under the eggplant and then wha what? It’s that unexpected tomato jelly. It’s strange and wonderful, an invigorating bite of summer. This dish was also a repeat. Had to.
A bowl of white rice comes with your selections or you can opt for the always evolving special rice for an extra two bucks. This night it was seaweed rice, a worthy expenditure.
Shrimp with kale and garlic in gochujang, a savory, fermented red chile paste was a light, fragrant, spunky palate pleaser. Excellent.
I could eat this for breakfast or dinner every day. A distinctive, herbaceous egg truffle custard with shiitakes and leeks. Comfort food 2.0. Maybe 4.0. It was deep. Kind of has an addictive mystique. We got this twice.
Mackerel with green chilies, scallions and radish. What goes on here? The fish is cooked perfectly, it’s soft and flavorful. But then you have this sauce, oh the sauce…a partially sweet yet almost tart essence that’s hard to get enough of.
Riding the current wing craze, lightly fried chicken on a shoal of spicy peanut butter sauce flecked with fried garlic chips is transcendent, if fried chicken can go beyond a material universe. It’s bright, airy, battered with rice flour and tapioca. This IS actually finger lickin’ good. It defies the photo and the menu description. You’ll be running your finger along the plate when it’s finished, you won’t be able to stop yourself.
The corn with taleggio, bacon and bean paste won’t last past corn season so if you’re in need of a last big hug of summer delight, this is it. It’s thick, salty, and gooey. It’s my mantra.
There’s a small very concentrated list of beer, wine, sake, sochu, and four lovely cocktails. including a very tasty pear sangria. After two glasses of my pop top sake, we shared a glass of rosé but then felt we needed a lovely dry sake to finish off the dinner. This tried and true bottle was it. Clean, crisp, balanced, dry – a true match for the food.
The plates are custom made for them by Solibaker, a Korean based ceramicist and they’re fantastic. The aprons, inspired by traditional Korean clothing, are an integral part of the overall graceful minimalist design.
The menu is seasonal and that might mean by the week not the four quarters of the year. Dishes vary from visit to visit, highlighted by what’s locally available and tend to be replaced altogether sooner than later. Lunch is planned for the near future as is an in-restaurant cart hosting another level of food choices to enjoy. I might want to live here. Apparently they took their name from an old Korean saying where ‘Ato’ means ‘gift’. That makes sense. These are beautifully presented small plates of food, little packages of joy. Chef Park is a wunderkind with sauces and since Korean food is not a bread friendly table, you need the rice, because you definitely don’t want to miss a drop.
43 East 28th Street between Park/Madison Avenue
Open Monday-Saturday 530pm-10pm