New York City's Korean restaurants are on the up. But which are the best spots for Korean food in the Big Apple? In search of all the insider info, Kiki Aranita asked Korean food expert and founding partner of Gotham Grove, Jennifer Yoo, for her top picks.
Jennifer Jiyun Yoo was the subject of a 2019 article in Taste, entitled: “A Korean Ingredient Smuggler Goes Clean”. There is indeed no better way to describe Yoo, who spent years bringing an array of specialty Korean ingredients from Seoul to New York City in many suitcases, though founding partner of Gotham Grove is now her official title. Since 2017, Gotham Grove has supplied many of New York City’s best chefs – and not only Korean ones – with feathery gamtae seaweed, strawberry gochujang and winter melon vinegar, all made by small producers. A partnership with Regalis has expanded Gotham Grove’s reach much farther and the pandemic boosted retail sales through gothamgrove.com as home cooks sought the same quality ingredients as Michelin-starred restaurants.
Years ago, Yoo gave me a taste of some of the vinegars and gochujangs she imports, and I was hooked. The perilla and sesame oils she brings in from Queens Bucket are now pantry staples I reach for several times a day and I refuse to use any other oils and vinegars on my fresh fish poke and kinilaw dishes. Yoo has stressed that she wanted me and other chefs to use these traditional ingredients in new ways that speak the language of our own cuisines (mine is rooted in Hawaii), though they may be worlds apart from their original applications, on the Korean foods with which she grew up and now frequently longs for.
Yoo lives in Brooklyn but is frequently in Korea to see her family. About her adopted home, she says: “It’s been great to see Korean food and ingredients getting a lot more attention in NYC – also outside of NYC. There have been an increasing number of experienced chefs setting up spots in NYC introducing modern, upscale, newer types of Korean cuisine. There’s also a strong Korean-American community presence that has been here for decades. All in all, it’s exciting to see Korean food embraced.”
Here are some of Yoo’s favourite Korean spots in New York City.