March 20 (Bloomberg) -- The cheapest Champagne at Gaonnuri is $160 the bottle. That’s a pricier starting point than at Masa or Per Se, where the food is outstanding, in contrast to “the world’s highest authentic Korean restaurant,” as its website boasts.
The site mentions Andy Sung, the chief executive officer, but not a chef, as far as I could tell -- which makes sense at one of New York’s weirdest and most expensive places to eat Korean.
It’s 39 stories over Broadway. At Gaonnuri (pronounced gah-ohn-noo-ree, which means “center of the world”) the waiters take orders on iPads and the cocktail list offers martinis flavored with chocolate, spiced apple or peach. You can also do $6 happy-hour tequila shots before ordering a $105 tasting menu.
Whatever Sung was thinking is beyond my powers of perception, but he must be onto something, as the place was packed on a recent Friday with guests seemingly eager to order $59 soups, $120 barbecue platters and $15 calamari.
The latter tastes like rubber bands doused in sweet-and-sour sauce and ranks among New York’s worst -- some sort of achievement, given how crowded that field is.
While ambitious Little Korea spots like Hanjan, Danji and Jungsik seek to release this food from its barbecue short-rib shackles, Gaonnuri takes the path of familiarity and charges a markup for panoramic city views (if you get a good table).
It’s the pricey Hakkasan of Korean cuisine. Whether that’s a compliment or criticism depends on the size of your expense account.
Begin with beef tartare ($14), because Koreans vie with the French for serving the world’s best raw beef. Instead of capers and Worcestershire sauce, Gaonnuri combines sesame oil and pears with the near-frozen ribeye, making for a carnivore’s Sno-Cone.
Order it with a glass of Riesling, but the drink might not arrive until after you’ve begun eating. The kitchen is sometimes faster than the bar, sometimes not: Galbi sliders ($11) took almost 25 minutes to arrive. The short-rib sandwiches balance the meat with the salty-sweetness of soy sauce and pears; add sauteed kimchi and you’ve got your signature dish. Too bad it’s only on the lounge menu.
Service has marginally improved since the awful early days, though the bar still won’t transfer your tab to the table. And while staffers remember to bring soy sauce with your ordinary Korean pancake sampler ($12), they forget to bring dipping bowls. Not acceptable when you’re paying more then $100 per person.
Braised short ribs ($15) aren’t mouthfillingly spoon-tender as they are elsewhere, but they’re good enough. Bossam won’t turn heads as it does at Ssam Bar, but the steamed pork and daikon radish ($14) satisfies.
Much better is octopus bokkeum ($14), a stew with tender shellfish, udon noodles and a gochugaru-spiked spaghetti sauce. So’s codfish stew, a spicy and warming blend of fish and tofu that can easily feed three. Braised black cod ($26) is sweet and silky.
Waiters execute tableside barbecue with aplomb, ensuring that nothing is overcooked. Tongue, dipped in sesame oil and salt, is massively meaty if aggressively priced at $28. Combination platters, which include a very good sweet-salty ribeye, start at $60.
The tart yuzu parfait ($12) or soft madeleines ($8) are the best desserts. Servers might disappear when it’s time to get the check. And where’s that host to get your coat? Nowhere. Some things about this place I just don’t understand.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: About $100 per person at dinner.
Sound Level: Not too loud, around 70 decibels.
Date Place: Even with the view, not at these prices.
Special Feature: There’s a tequila-shot happy hour on Thursdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Inside Tip: Skip the barbecue platters and order the tongue and bulgogi individually.
Back on My Own Dime: No.
Gaonnuri is at 1250 Broadway. Information: +1-212-971-9045 or http://www.gaonnurinyc.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: You’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Tumblr at www.thepricehike.com or www.thebaddeal.com.)
Muse highlights include Lance Esplund on art and David Shribman on books.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.