When chef Sungchul Shim, who had previously worked at fine dining spots Neta and Per Se, opened Kochi in 2019, he focused on Korean-style skewers. For $75, the nine-course menu was more affordable than many other tasting menus of its ilk at the time. Since its debut, the restaurant has earned one Michelin star and boosted its price tag to $125 during the pandemic, attributing it to rising food costs and payroll. Now Shim has his sights set on a new restaurant, Mari, also in Hell’s Kitchen. It opens tomorrow, December 10, at 679 Ninth Avenue, between 46th and 47th streets.
“I love Hell’s Kitchen because there is high energy in the neighborhood,” says Shim. “There is an eclectic mix of people, food, and culture that I wanted to stay a part of.”
At Mari, he’s continuing on with the tasting menu format, which is also priced at $125. Kochi’s tasting menu is nine courses, while at Mari there are an expanded eleven. Swapping out skewers cooked on binchotan charcoal, the focus here is on Korean hand rolls (Mari, Shim says, translates to mean roll).
Instead of sliced rolls of rice and seaweed similar to the popular kimbap, these are Korean hand rolls, more akin in shape to Japanese temaki, Shim says. However, some common kimbap ingredients like pickled radish and the pickled perilla leaves make an appearance. “It has firm roots in kimbap,” says executive sous chef, Christian Oh, but it’s a very different construction.
Nomad’s KazuNori, and more recently, the success of the West Village’s Nami Nori (now with an additional location in Williamsburg), had Shim consider why “he couldn’t bring similar Korean hand rolls to fine dining.” So he’s done just that. Unlike Nami Nori, though, the environment is more formal. Still, Shim points out that his price point is more affordable than some of the eye-popping omakase spots that have exploded in the city.
Mari’s tasting menu begins with hansang (yellowtail, eggplant jeon, acorn jelly, oysters, and crispy egg rice), and the sundubu with little neck clams, mussels, shrimp, and a charred scallion oil.
The menu then proceeds onto the eight hand rolls, which range from a pork belly version to one with snow crab. The hand rolls precede the final savory course: the labor-intensive guksu, a dish hailing from Jeju Island. A chicken, pork, and beef broth bubbles away for 36 hours and is served with slow-cooked pork belly, which is topped with Shim’s own chili oil with gochugaru and served with wheat noodles.
For dessert, Mari offers a reinterpretation of a Korean convenience store favorite: Choco pies. The dessert is not pre-packaged, rather here is presented as a chocolate sponge cake stuffed with black sesame marshmallow and strawberry jam.
The restaurant itself is bigger and brighter than Kochi with turquoise tiles and marble counter tops. The space features 31 seats indoors, 20 of which are counter seats overlooking the open kitchen. Youngmi Ham of Studio Rolling, who also designed the “cozier” Kochi, worked on the new Hell’s Kitchen space.
“We hope to show that Korean food can be higher end but also fun to eat,” says Oh. “It doesn’t just have to only be stews or Korean barbecue.”
Mari is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m.