The first time I watched MasterChef was in Australia when I was visiting my family one summer. When it premiered in the US two seasons ago I was immediately hooked and have been an avid viewer since its inception.
When my friend Marian The Foodie sent me information about RnD Table, an underground popup restaurant to be headed by Mike Q Kim, one of MasterChef’s first season contenders, I was very excited but due to some unforeseen circumstances, I had to pull out of its debut and only managed to make it to its fourth appearance.
Mike met Reuben while working at Jose Andres’ The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel and decided to get together and create RnD Table, bringing together a mix of their cultures and their experiences. In doing so, Chef Mike’s heritage comes into play where the dishes presented are his take on traditional Korean favorites. He says he couldn’t understand why Japanese and Chinese cuisines are so widely popular to those outside of the culture while Korean food seems relatively unknown. It is with that he decided to create a menu to showcase.
We started with Croquette & Dumpling (Mandu 만두) potato and beef croquette, cabbage slaw, oxtail dumpling, shimeiji, purslane, sriracha.
I’m not a big fan of croquette because it is really difficult to get the textural combo just right. Most of the time there is too much mush and not enough crunch but once in a while, I come across a really good croquette and am blown away. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times. The croquette had some bits inside which wasn’t pleasant and the interior was very bland and flavorless.
The mandu looked nice but again the filing was too mushy and again, disappointing. The sriracha aioli was delicious but didn’t do much to help either of these. Same goes for the spicy pickled soy fluid gel. It was so tasty, but not enough to mask the two items on the plate.
At this point I was worried about what’s about to come, but when Yellowtail Sashimi (Hwe Dup Bap 회덮밥) arrived, I was wow-ed by the presentation. When I took a bite, I was happy that it was absolutely delicious!
The yellowtail sashimi had components of chogojujang (Korean hot pepper paste) perilla leaf (shiso), nori, arugula, asian pear and masago and surprisingly, even with THAT many items on the plate, it worked! Of course, I tasted each dollop separately and was blown away by the richness of the nori puree paste and craved more of the gojujang and shiso.
I’m a huge fan of Dongchimi (동치미) which is the ‘soup’ base for a Korean summer time cold noodle dish I love. The Granita was a take on the broth using lobak radish (the Chinese daikon), asian pear, fresno pepper, green onion and tomato heart, all components of the Korean broth but made into a palate cleanser in a small shot-sized glass.
I was immediately enamored by this cold, refreshing palate cleanser upon contact. My mouth tasted the dongchimi but my eyes were fooled, but boy was it an aesthetically pleasing trick.
As most of you know, I am a big fan of Korean cuisine and you also may know I’m a bit of a purist. Therefore it is no surprise that I love samgetang (삼계탕) a chicken stuffed with sweet glutinous rice and stewed in a soup with ginseng. dried jujube, onion, garlic. Chicken Risotto is RnD Table’s version of samgetang but I can’t put my head around it because I expect more broth, less rice with a stronger more prominent ginseng taste.
Braised Shortrib (Galbi Jjim 갈비찜) was just okay for me. My portion of shortrib was not tender while Austin’s was fall-off-the-bone. Braised in an ancho chile-soy, the flavor was spot-on and permeated through the meat well. I wasn’t sure I liked the Mexican influences of pico de gallo, carrot, cilantro-lime-crema and coriander tortilla chips on the plate though. The two flavors didn’t mesh well for me.
Surprisingly, my favorite course of the evening was dessert. Yes, surprise surprise!! The use of molecular gastronomy was most evident in this dish. Carbonated watermelon, honeydew cake, coconut milk ice cream, yuzu, vanilla gel and basil looked so busy on the plate, and ordinarily, that would be a big deterrence to me. However, each item had such a unique flavor of its own which also worked well together. My favorite was the coconut milk ice cream and the yuzu!
There is no “set” price at RnD Table although the suggested donation is $60 which covers the cost of the ingredients only. Sodas and water are provided and you can bring your own wine if you wish to have that to accompany your meal with.