Where: 43 East 28th Street, New York, NY 10016
Crowd: Fashionable couples on their weekly date night
Vibe: Fine dining minus the fuss
Standout dish: Egg with watercress, fried quinoa and uni
Walk too quickly and you’re sure to miss Atoboy. That’s exactly what happens as I stride too briskly up 28th Street in Flatiron, past the restaurant’s barely-marked concrete facade. I double back, finally catching the slim wooden door and thin vertical sign.
After we're seated at a two-top near the front, our server Jane swings by with menus. She explains the concept: for $36 per person, you choose one dish from the three sections, plus a rice (white or for $2 extra, a seasonal special). The menu, crafted by chef Junghyun Park (one of South Korea's most accomplished exports), is inspired by banchan, the eclectic side dishes that come with every Korean meal where everything is meant to be shared. We already have our eye on one – a uni-topped steamed egg that my dining companion spotted on Instagram (naturally).
It doesn’t take us long to come up with a game plan: six dishes total, plus two bowls of the seasonal mushroom rice. Our choices include two plates from the middle group – the steamed egg, plus a pork and shrimp-stuffed squid with salsa verde – and one from section three, the pork jowl.
Jane returns to take our order. “It’s $10 more for fresh California uni,” she informs us about the steamed egg. “Would you like to add it?” We nod in unison and are met with an approving look. Moments later, Ellia, who runs the restaurant with her husband chef Park, stops by. She’s incredibly sweet and enviably fashionable in a dark oversized sweatshirt, black jeans and tennis shoes. No wonder the restaurant, with its exposed concrete walls, gray wooden tables and copper accents, feels so perfectly industrial-chic.
Dishes arrive fast and our table is beginning to fill up, but it never feels cluttered. I look around and notice all the other tables, populated by a mix of couples and small groups, who aren’t overwhelmed by their growing spreads either. Good measuring on behalf of the Parks.
I turn my attention back to our food; the egg dish is finally here and we pass it around in an attempt to take our own Instagram-worthy shot before digging in. Chef Park put in time at Michelin-starred Korean restaurant Jungsik, and his skills are evident – the egg is exceedingly smooth with a boost of texture from watercress and fried quinoa. Topped with five silky slips of uni, it’s truly a heavenly bite. The egg disappears fast, as does the unctuous fatty pork jowl, which is paired with ssamjang-covered barley and a tangy lettuce salad.
We’re stuffed, but that doesn’t stop us from ordering dessert, a honey panna cotta and sujeonggwa granita. Finished with a golden crumble and pomegranate seeds, the panna cotta is more photogenic, but it’s the granita – inspired by a Korean cinnamon-ginger drink traditionally served at the end of a meal – that’s the standout. The icy flavored crystals are delish, and walnuts are added in for crunch. It’s a light, sophisticated end to an elegant meal. We'll be back for seconds soon.
Disclaimer: VIVA was a guest of Atoboy restaurant, however opinions and comments made by the writer remain unbiased and independent.