I Dined At The Best Restaurant In New York City – Here’s What It Was Like
— Updated on 22 June 2023

I Dined At The Best Restaurant In New York City – Here’s What It Was Like

— Updated on 22 June 2023
Chris Singh
WORDS BY
Chris Singh

I’m waiting outside a fairly nondescript townhouse in East Side Manhattan, just a stone’s throw from the corner of 30th & Park. Hardly where I’d expect to find one of the world’s hottest restaurants, and yet Atomix hides plenty of atmospheric magic behind its solid black door.

Right now, this high-end Korean diner sits at #33 in the annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – the city’s highest ranking – and just a few days ago, its director, Chef Junghyun Park was named New York State’s best chef by the prestigious James Beard Foundation.

UPDATE [22/06/2023]: With the recent World’s 50 Best Restaurants list announced for 2023, Atomix has remarkably shot up to #8. That not only makes it one of the top ten restaurants in the world right now, but it’s also the highest position any restaurant in the USA achieved this year. Best restaurant in the country? Read on to find out.

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While I knew about the former upon entering the venue, the latter was only announced a day after I dined at the impossibly-hard-to-book restaurant, which is fast becoming a favourite amongst that niche category of fussy gourmands who travel the world just to eat the very best food.

I take my place at the 14-seat Chef’s Counter, downstairs from the more approachable bar area, which is also quite difficult to book and is powered mostly by Atomix’s “research and development” team. To my left, a man pushes up his glasses while staff greet him like an old friend. “It’s so good to see you again” at least three different staff whisper in a hushed tone.

I couldn’t imagine being a regular at a restaurant that’s amongst one of the hardest bookings to score in a city notorious for hard-to-score bookings. Yet it seems like a lot of the diners here have been through before. It’s always a promising sign when a chef’s counter, where a set menu costs US$375, has returning customers. I have no doubt that I’m in for a treat.

Horse mackerel, monkfish liver, nuruk cookie (Photo by Chris Singh)

“Have you won a James Beard yet? No. Well, if you don’t win this time then I no longer respect the foundation,” the woman to my right says rather sharply to one of the well-dressed staff taking care of our side of the table. We’re halfway through our 10-course set menu and already I feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

She turns to me. “Chris, you agree, right? This is just immaculate. Faultless, really. The service is so beautiful,” she says in her vague French accent. I nod in agreement. Yet, her favourite dish of the night – Kristal caviar with bluefin tuna, sugar snap pea and cabbage – is one of my least. But that’s because I adore caviar and I want its moreish richness to shine through a bit more. Upon reflection, perhaps that was an unfair expectation and one that goes against what Park has sought to achieve with these artful, intelligent dishes – harmony.

These are incredibly considered dishes, beautifully presented in small servings to represent a luxurious take on traditional Korean banchan, which is those little side dishes you’d usually get at a Korean barbecue designed to complement the meats. Contrast is a big theme in Korean cuisine and fermentation is its main driver, creating all these subtle differences in aroma, taste and texture which, at Atomix, Park uses in very clever ways.

Scallop, firefly squid, gochugaru, moo (Photo by Chris Singh)

To me, the smartest dish is scallop with firefly squid and gochugaru sauce, deceptively simple but beautifully balanced, with a depth of flavour elevated by what I feel is the most complex spice I’ve ever experienced. The firefly squid, sourced from Japan, adds a generously squishy texture to contrast with the fresh flakiness of the scallop, both providing that full-flavoured palate while the stock is both rich, from the use of fish sauce and creme fraiche, and light enough as to not overburden the premium ingredients

While that was the peak for me, amongst the finest things I’ve ever eaten, Atomix’s set menu is the kind of hit-after-hit dining experience I’d gladly return to. Even a dish as simple as kohlrabi with yellow beetroot, mussel and nuruk is an experience unto itself, right alongside more eye-catching items like Spanish mackerel with king crab, white kimchi and scallop xo, or the beautifully fatty A5 wagyu with tomato ssamjang, potato and chopi, served with its own side dish of cold gamtae noodles.

A5 wagyu with tomato ssamjang, potato and chopi (Photo by Chris Singh)

Each dish is accompanied by a postcard with an augmented-reality portrait. I hover my phone over each as instructed and am met with moving geometric shapes, each playing on the overarching theme of a circle. As Park writes on one of the cards, the circle represents an “infinite sense of space as well as static softness.”

Trying to parse the philosophical connection between the cards, their various blurbs, and Park’s magnificent cooking is too much for me. The biggest distraction is flavour. There’s a tonne of it in each and every dish, and as I learned with the Kristal caviar, no one ingredient will ever be more important than the other.

Yuja ice cream, damsol (Photo by Chris Singh)
Jocheong, honeycomb (Photo by Chris Singh)

The biggest concern with fine dining on this level is serving size. Will I be full by the time I’m done with the second of two desserts (rice ice cream with jocheong, honeycomb and rice crispy)? No, but perhaps that says more about my voracious appetite than what Park is presenting here. And what he is presenting is undoubtedly unique and worthwhile – a celebratory essay on Korean techniques and how they can be used to bring the most out of ingredients sourced from around the world.


Atomix Menu (June 1st, 2023)

1st Course: Horse mackerel, monkfish liver, nuruk cookie
2nd Course: Sea urchin, steamed carrot cake
3rd Course: Kristal caviar, bluefin tuna, sugar snap pea, cabbage
4th Course: Japchae, mung bean sprouts, turnip, black truffle
5th Course: Scallop, firefly squid, gochugaru, moo
6th Course: Sea cucumber, shrimp, gochugaru, egg (side dish: aehobak rice, dubu jang
7th Course: Spanish mackerel, king crab, white kimchi (side dish: egg custard, elderberry)
8th Course: A5 wagyu, tomato ssamjang, potato, chopi (side dish: gamtae noodle, gim)
9th Course: Yuja ice cream, damsol, spruce
10th Course: Jocheong, honeycomb

Best Dishes:

  • Scallop with firefly squid
  • A5 wagyu with tomato ssamjang
  • Horse mackerel with monkfish liver

Atomix

Address: 104 E 30th St, New York, NY 10016, United States
Opening Hours: Wednesday – Sunday (5:30 PM – 11 PM)

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Chris Singh
WORDS by
Chris is a freelance Travel, Food, and Technology writer. He has had work published by The AU Review, Junkee Media and Australian Traveller Media and holds tertiary qualifications in Psychology and Sociology.

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