Persimmon277 E. 10th St, 212-260-9080 Price range: $33-$38 Rating: 5L's
Everyone knows Momofuku, the haute Asian comfort-food mini empire started by David Chang, providing New York’s downtown denizens some of the most exciting and reasonably priced meals in recent memory. His simple, obsessive approach has been bestowed on those who’ve worked for him, and the first of these chefs to strike out on his own is Youngsun Lee, who brings Chang’s ethic to Korean, and who has crafted a stinging rebuttal to 32nd Street’s forgettable, near-identical BBQ behemoths.
Persimmon’s long, narrow, stark space holds one large, colorfully laid-out communal table. But for the best experience, sit at one of four seats facing the kitchen. From the heavy silver chopsticks to the luxe restroom products, everything is first class — except the price. Prix fixe only, a five-course meal runs just $37, and it’s BYOB for now.
On our Korean odyssey, we started with Chicken Dumplings. Distinct flavors of free-range chicken and green onion shone out, dipped only in an uncommonly rich “farm-made soy sauce.” Fluke sashimi was even better, the sweet flesh dancing in a gingery red-pepper sauce. Next up was pork belly, a take, perhaps, on Mr. Chang’s signature dish, which sees braised strips of buttery pork belly wrapped in napa cabbage with homemade kimchi, miso paste and a baby shrimp condiment. As a professional eater, I have a fondness for pork belly, yet I actually preferred a bowl of delicate sweet potato noodles. The luscious Korean classic was mixed with crunchy cucumber, carrot and shiitake, transporting me to a childhood I never had.
All along, we were plied with panchan, Korean side dishes, all house-made and vibrant. Best were raw, soy sauce-cured garlic cloves. Next up were two steaming stews. We chose a miso stew with seafood and a pigs’ feet soup, both rich and spicy. The pigs’ feet soup was totally authentic, and some of the goodies in the terrific broth — chewy feet and hard, bitter liver — didn’t completely suit me, but the blood sausage was masterful. The miso stew was utterly approachable; its slightly spicy broth accenting a panoply of the sea.
Dessert was simple sesame-seed cookies and a rice drink. The rice drink, sweet and milky, was revelatory, another side of the Korean home kitchen. The chef, sensing our pleasure, poured us a second glass, along with slices of sugary snow-white Korean melon, the likes of which I’ve never tasted.
Youngsun Lee has done an admirable job of transporting the Momofuku ethos to Korean, and the city is richer for it. So hurry up and snag a seat while the prices are still so low, the kitchen staff fervent, and the drinks BYOB.