Japanese A5 wagyu, Hokkaido sea urchin, Australian black truffles, and Russian golden osetra caviar might not be the first ingredients you associate with Korean barbecue, but at HYUN—New York’s most intriguing new restaurant in this category—owner Jaehyun Kim aims to show Manhattan a new take on the genre.
Having relocated from Seoul to the Big Apple two years ago, Kim admits that he was shocked to learn that Korean restaurants in America have such large menus. “Barbecue restaurants that sell other menu items have no specialty,” he says, explaining that in Korea, barbecue joints focus on grilling meat, usually offering a stew option and cold noodles—but that’s it. “I am not sure how they keep the quality of the ingredients with so many dishes,” he says, giving the example of a Japanese restaurant serving both sushi and yakitori.
Keen to offer a new perspective on Korean barbecue, Kim—who owns three restaurants in Seoul, one of which is dedicated to grilled meat—soft-launched HYUN last spring, but the wagyu-wed steak spot has remained largely under the radar. Commanding a modest, narrow plot on 33nd Street near 5th Avenue, HYUN offers just ten tables, four of which are sectioned off via sliding doors into cozy private rooms that accommodate four guests, with one larger private area holding up to eight.
Matching HYUN’s ingredient-obsessive approach to Korean barbecue, the restaurant itself—mostly designed by Kim in an array of earthy browns and grays—feels elegant and subdued, like entering a high-end omakase sushi bar. Note natural wood embellishments from 100-year-old trees, in addition to Yoo-Ki tableware, Korean-style brassware that’s used by the royal family.
“Many people misunderstand it's more Japanese than Korean,” says Kim of HYUN’s minimalist aesthetic; he insists that the earthy materials and clean lines are as Korean as they are Japanese. “I tried to make this space, where the boundaries of a space — the emptiness of the background and the peoples'—movements have been combined.”
And the restaurant’s clean look only serves to better highlight its array of unctuous buttery beef—all A5-grade wagyu from various prefectures in Japan, like Hokkaido. Ultimately, Kim would have liked to serve hanwoo, Korean beef, but since it’s not imported into the United States, he felt that wagyu was his next best beef option. And unlike most other wagyu-selling restaurants in New York who buy specific cuts, HYUN is the first restaurant in New York to import whole wagyu cattle, breaking down each animal at the restaurant.
So naturally, guests will find myriad parts of the animal on the menu. But prime cuts like ribeye, tenderloin, and short rib are reserved for grilling (HYUN uses gas grills built into each table), and range in price from $58 for three ounces of ribeye, to $98 for six ounces of marinated short rib. And to highlight the quality of his beef, Kim presents diners with five types of salt to enhance the protein’s flavor: sea salt flavored with red wine, wasabi, green tea, yuzu, and black truffle.
Rounding out the non-grilled menu options are additional meat dishes, like raw wagyu with Korean pear and sesame oil ($38), and mini steamed brisket wraps encasing enoki mushrooms and perilla leaves ($46). Other standouts include cold noodles in radish water kimchi soup ($24) and donabe rice dishes topped with ingredients like Hokkaido uni and Australia black truffles (price varies based on market availability).
Unlike many of the restaurants in K-Town, HYUN does not offer complimentary banchan—those small picked and preserved veggie and seafood dishes that commonly commence a Korean barbecue meal. Instead, guests can order assorted seasonal pickles—from perilla leaf to plum to dried radish—and Kim urges guests to do so because, as he puts it, the acidity in the pickled vegetables “play a role in softening the taste of the meat,” helping to balance the wagyu’s fat-marbled flesh. But there’s also soju, sake, and a short list of full-proof spirits to wash it all down.
With just six months of business thus far, Kim is already making moves. Next month, he is planning to launch an even more elevated dining experience within HYUN, partially inspired by Born & Bred (what many will tell you is Seoul’s most coveted and impossible-to-book omakase experience based around premiere Korean beef). Kim is still in the process of finishing a rear room that will accommodate four to five guests for an all-wagyu chef’s choice dinner priced around $350. Think ten non-grilled meat courses, following by a succession of barbecue and two desserts.
From Cote’s dry-aged beef omakase to Atomix’s elegant tasting menu, New York City has seen a recent influx of Korean eateries with fresh takes on the country’s homestyle cuisine. Looks like HYUN is next.