This week I had the pleasure of tasting from an extensive menu at the relatively new and upscale Korean BBQ restaurant Kristalbelli. This is not your typical K-Town restaurant. The concept was conceived by the young entrepreneur and entertainer J.Y. Park (JYP) who wanted to create a very high-end and authentic Korean food experience. The chef is David Shim whose portfolio includes Gramercy Tavern and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.
From the outside of 36th Street, the massive wooden doors are your first hint that this restaurant may be different from its neighbors in the area. Your suspicion is right. Upon entering, you are transported to a posh and contemporary restaurant (including a new lounge, Juga, upstairs) with high ceilings and glossy walls.
We started our evening at Juga with a lovely St. Germain margarita, a smooth and delicate take on a traditional cocktail. Once dinner was ready, we sat down at one of the communal marble tables. One of the unique features of the restaurant is the belly-shaped crystal grills in each table. JYP personally designed the grills. Crystal grills enable faster grilling time and help sear and hold in the juices of the meats. Additionally, these grills essentially eliminate any odors or smoke that arise from grilling indoors so there are no harmful residues.
We started with small plates of various appetizers, which included homemade tofu with vegetables, tuna tartare, pork belly, and pancakes with meat and seafood. After our appetizers it was time to get grilling. My favorite part of the experience was having the uniformed waiter grill your vegetables and meat for you.
He walked us through the advantages of the grills and guided us through the authentic Korean way to eat a wonderfully seared rib eye: sprinkle your steak with Kristalbelli's recommended sea salt, which has less sodium than others on the market; place your meat in a pickled radish; top with a slice of kimchi; and wrap like a taco. It's delicious and I loved the simplicity of just having the steak with the sea salt. You can also use other condiments, such as their homemade honey mustard and plum sauce.
Kristalbelli was definitely a fun experience. While it's a splurge meal, Kristalbelli is a unique place to celebrate a special occasion with an intimate group or a favorite dining companion. Get the tuna tartare and grilled rib eye. It's worth it.
Here's a photo of our dinner in "action"...