A decade ago, Korean restaurants in Manhattan revolved around tabletop barbecue and bibimbap. Now banchan appears on tasting menus, alongside imported spirits from Korean rappers. And don’t forget the baked goods drawing lines like streetwear drops. Of the 19 new establishments awarded Michelin stars in New York City last year, three of them were modern Korean restaurants: a big win for a cuisine that had just five in total the prior awards season.
With more local cred, Korean chefs are now looking back on the rise of the country’s food in New York, and starting to fill in blanks. For Hoyoung Kim, a chef best known for his Michelin-starred restaurant Jua, that starts with mul naengmyeon. The chilled noodle dish originated in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. It’s found on menus across town, including at Olle and Antoya Korean BBQ in the neighborhood, but he hopes Moono can turn it into a household name.
The restaurant opens on Wednesday, May 31, at 29 East 32nd Street, between Park and Madison avenues, in partnership with Hand Hospitality — the Korean restaurant group behind Atomix, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Nomad, and Ariari in the East Village. It’s the second restaurant from Kim, who opened Jua in Flatiron right before the pandemic and earned a Michelin star as soon as the awards returned.
His menu is a la carte this time around, with dishes that pull from various aspects of Korean cooking, most priced between $20 to $30. There’s sections of twigim (fried foods), jeon (pancakes), ssam (lettuce wraps for meats and seafood), and sotbap (pots of rice). Noodles, specifically mul naengmyeon, anchor the lineup.
The chef prepares the chilled noodle dish with buckwheat noodles sourced from Maine and a broth made by simmering brisket, shank, and pork belly. Sliced meats, Asian pear, and a boiled egg sit atop the cold dish, which is meant to be eaten year-round. “New Yorkers are getting familiar with bibimbap and galbi,” he says. “Now is the time to show them something different.”
A similar effort is underway in the underground tunnels of Rockefeller Center, where Junghyun and Ellia Park, the owners of Atomix, recently opened Naro. The team set out to serve dishes that represented various aspects of traditional life in Korea. If a three-star review in the New York Times is anything to go by, the Parks might be onto something.
The stage this time is a restaurant on the edge of Koreatown that feels like a small palace. Moono has 100 seats spread across the ground floor and an indoor terrace that overlooks the dining room. The high ceilings give the restaurant the appearance of a chapel, or maybe a Wes Anderson hotel. The second floor is accessible by stairwell and elevator. Both passages will eventually lead to a chef’s counter the team is opening upstairs.
For now, Moono is open Monday to Saturday, from 5 to 11 p.m.