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I was invited to visit Jungsik, the 2-star Michelin rated restaurant in Tribeca that serves “New Korean”. It is somewhat of an enigma, earning good reputations in the press yet having few customers.
I arrived at 2:00 PM as suggested by General Manager Kyungmoon Kim. It seemed like a strange time since the regular dining service does not open until the evening. I thought, “Maybe I am VIP. I must be in the front row.” But I was rudely disappointed.
I walked in and no one greeted me. The chairs in the dining room were stacked upside down on the tables. The tables were not set. I went to the kitchen to see cooks out of uniform preparing for the evening.
Finally, the GM came to greet me. From the start, he was not overly friendly and seemed confused. I asked if he remembered our appointment, and he did. It seems that he thought we would simply come by, take a couple of pictures, then give them valuable free advertising.
An interview with the chef, whomever that is, might have been nice, but he was in Korea. His junior chef was running the kitchen. Even an interview with the GM might have sufficed, except that he seemed to not understand English very well (or he was pretending and being a jerk).
Mr. Kim assured me that they could cook up some meals and have me try them at one of the empty tables. The entire scenario was becoming far too awkward and I declined.
When the New York Times restaurant reviewer Pete Wells wrote his review of Jungsik, he wrote about the service, “Jungsik has struggled to find the right tone in its service, too. Although highly attentive, the staff can affect an elaborate, almost Edwardian courtesy that does not seem to come naturally. Perhaps the actors on “Downton Abbey” can sound believable saying things like “As a final element to your meal here, we provide you with an angelica root pot de crème,” but it’s a bit much for the young servers at Jungsik….This may explain why Jungsik was half empty on a recent night… The interior of the restaurant, with two long walls of creamy banquettes and white table linens, has a kind of rectilinear, modern elegance, but it might have been so much more striking if the grandly windowed space, once occupied by Chanterelle, had not been carved into boxes….”
Jungsik is undoubtedly benefiting from being a novelty act in New York and the Korean food trend still en vogue. The reviewers for Michelin must be so jaded that a new type of cuisine distorted their senses.
For me, bad service at a fine dining establishment is a show stopper. I declined the offer to test the dishes, walked out, hopped on a Citi Bike, and went to the Battery Park Shake Shack for a double cheeseburger with bacon. Coincidentally, I ran into the GM of the North End Grill, Kevin Richer, who knows how to provide stellar service.
In summary, I agree with The New York Times’ comment on Jungsik being half empty. The mystery of the empty 2-star Michelin restaurant has been solved. It’s about the service, stupid.