This is Mike Kim. You might remember him from the first season of Master Chef. The American version. If you think back, you might remember a Korean guy who talks like the wind and runs like a roadrunner around his station.
This is Conrad. Conrad and Mike are both chefs at Bazaar (Jose Andres, anyone?). They decided to take their love of food beyond the brick and mortar and start RnD Table. The concept: Give young chefs the opportunity to experiment and collaborate. The rules: None but an open mind, hard work ethic, curiosity, and passion. Inspiration: Korean cuisine. The result: An intimate, fun, delicious dining experience for curious eaters.
I was really excited about RnD Table for three reasons: (1) whether you call it a pop-up kitchen, underground kitchen, or a supper club, I am a big fan of these fly by night food affairs because you get nothing but food, passion, and good company, (2) being Korean, I was curious to see whether this modern interpretation would give due respect to the culture (it does), and (3) my sister, who worked on MC, had said enough good things about Mike to make me curious to see him in action. Turns out the television version of Mike is more or less accurate. I was in the door but for a second before Mike tried to seat me, all while giving me a hug, telling me I could take photos, asking if I wanted a drink, and introducing his team. Like I said, speedy.
But don't let the speed fool you.
The team is the real deal.
Stomachs grumbling in anticipation
Blue bowls ready in line
First: Gyeran Jim (Egg Custard)
According to Mike, a melding of Asian and French techniques. Inside: egg, trumpet mushrooms, crispy lotus root, green onion, soy. Flavor: A delicious mushroom umami flavor permeating the creamy egg custard.
Second: Hwe Dup Bop (yellowtail sashimi)
To me and all Koreans, hwe dup bop is something like a raw fish version of bibimbap-rice, raw fish, and a whole lot of other things jumbled together in a big bowl. This was a lighter version, with rice replaced by rice cracker. What you see here is sesame leaf chlorophyll spread like paint; atop it is asian pear, guacamole, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), and purple garlic flowers. There's also masago, arugula, perilla leaf, and chrysanthemum sprout. And of course, yellowtail. Flavor: Light, more Japanese than Korean to me.
Third: Dongchimi (Granita)
This is no ordinary granita. It reminded me of naengmyun on a hot summer's day, or the cool liquid remains of mulkimchi (literally: water kimchi). Refreshing and so, so good. inside: Lobok radish, asian pear, fresno pepper, green onion. What you can't see is the delicate arrangement inside, made to look like a flower.
Plating the next course
Mike was a pro-in and out of the kitchen, serving the dishes, introducing each course with his signature "stop to catch my breath" excitement.
Fourth: Samgyetang (chicken risotto)
This was my favorite of the night. A perfect marriage of Italian and Korean. Inside: chicken breast, sweet rice, jujube, ginseng, onion, garlic, cilantro flower, toasted pinenut, crispy chicken skin. That little puff of white? Ginseng air. The risotto had an addicting quality-moist, chewy, rich with Korean flavors. The chicken was moist (thank goodness). The pinenuts, chicken skin, and cilantro flower added texture and highlights to this otherwise deep, savory dish.
Fifth: Galbi Jim (braised shortrib)
A little overexposed, but here you see shortrib with pico de gallo, pickled carrot, cilantro-lime crema, and tortilla chips. You guessed it-Korean and Latino. This was the favorite of a lot of the guests, but to be honest, I would have preferred straight-up, honest-to-goodness galbi jim, the way my mom makes it: Giant hunks of melt-in-your-mouth galbi, humble chunks of radish turned brown from soaking up all the liquid, eaten on top of white rice. Mmm. I think I have an idea for my next dish.
Sixth: Soobak (Watermelon)
Koreans don't eat dessert. Unless you count fruit and rice cakes. This dish looks like a circus on a plate, and that's exactly how it tasted. Carbonated watermelon marinted in lime and ginger, honeydew cake, coconut milk ice cream, yuzu vanilla gel, and basil. It basically tasted like every cool Japanese candy flavor combined with poprocks and light, fluffy cake. Pure fun.
With heavy bellies and happy hearts, we filled out survey cards so that Mike, Conrad and crew could plot out their next RnD Adventure. All are welcome to sign up, but spots fill up FAST. If you're interested in cooking alongside them, then, as Mike told me, be willing to learn, willing to work, and curious. In the meantime, taste everything.
A blurry shot of the crew.
And yes, that's Lee on the right.