The Hand Hospitality takeover of Manhattan continues with Jua, which looks like another winner for the same restaurant group that helped give us spots like Her Name Is Han, O:N, Atoboy, and Atomix. And soon*, the team will debut this Korean tasting-menu spot with a focus on wood-fired cooking.
The idea for the 49-seat restaurant was hatched by the restaurant’s jovial and enthusiastic chef Ho Young Kim, who spent his career working at the acclaimed restaurant Jungsik. Kim started at the original South Korean location in 2009, coming to New York for the opening of Manhattan’s Jungsik in 2011. He’s a lifelong cook. “When I was young, I loved to make food with my mom,” he says, adding that he attended both the Korean Culinary Arts High School and went to university to study restaurant management and cooking. He says he loves Chinese, French, Japanese, and Italian cooking, but always comes back to Korean food. “I am always inspired by Korean food,” he says. “Using French technique, you know.”
At Jua, Kim will offer both a six-course tasting menu for $95 along with a handful of other dishes available at the seven-seat bar. A wood-fired grill is the center and spectacle of the upstairs kitchen, and there are dry-aging fridges downstairs where they’re hanging steaks and duck. The ever-changing tasting menu will start with two snacks, before going on to the various courses centered around proteins like squid, branzino, duck, and more. (Ingredients beyond the proteins are, for the most part, still being tweaked.)
One course is a dish Kim calls truffle noodles. It’s a clever riff on the Korean-Chinese obsession jjajangmyun, which is traditionally made with vegetables, diced pork, and chungjung, a thick, dark sauce of flour and fermented soybeans. The pairing of the sweet, salty sauce with earthy truffles sounds like a natural one. “That one, I love that. I love that,” Kim says of jjajangmyun. The last course is a dessert from Jungsik’s talented and creative pastry chef Eunji Lee, whose fiddling with omija pear (also known as the five-flavor fruit) for the opening menu.
At the bar, the food will likewise be riffs on traditional dishes. “Classic things, but I want to express it more New York,” the chef says. That means snacks like ddukgalbi, or galbi with rice cake; hoppang, Korean-style steamed buns that he’s serving with shrimp; and a rather impressive-looking potato pancake. His “very Korean” gamjajeon consists of a disc of crispy, shredded potato topped with four small, smashed potatoes and a fair share of uni with a sweet and salty soy sauce. To go with the food, general manager and beverage director Jaehoon No has put together a menu of both natural and conventional wines. There will also be classic cocktails with Korean touches, like a Negroni with Asian-pear-infused gin. That is, once their pending liquor license goes through.
Kim admits to being particular about and involved in all aspects of the restaurant, down to the plateware designed by Korean artist NamHee Kim. “I’m very sensitive about all things, all design is in good harmony, you know?” he says, explaining that he had the image of a mountain cabin in mind. The dining room has very high ceilings and plenty of brick, concrete, wood, and steel. Up front, there’s a tall wooden cabinet that looks like it belongs in the living room of your rich friend’s family retreat. And, for all the fancy cooking, he wants to infuse the place with the familial welcome of a cabin. “At the mountain cabin, you always invite friends and family, there’s a wood fire — I don’t know, marshmallows?” he says.
Jua, 36 E. 22nd St., nr. Park Ave.; 646-590-1598
* This post has been updated because the restaurant’s opening has been delayed, by at least a week, because of a city permit issue.