NYCReview

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Meju image
8.6

Best New Restaurants

2023

Meju

Korean

Long Island City

$$$$Perfect For:Unique Dining ExperienceFine DiningKeeping It Kind Of HealthySpecial Occasions
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The first time Meju’s chef mentions natural fermentation, it feels a little like an infomercial. There you are, sitting at an eight-seat counter in a hidden room that looks like a fancy Star Wars cantina, and now some guy who was silently toasting seaweed for the past five minutes is talking healthy bacteria, promising you’ll leave feeling better than when you arrived.

We can’t speak to the health benefits of Meju, but we can tell you that by the time you finish your meal at this serene tasting-menu spot in Long Island City, you’ll have experienced something uniquely endearing, mildly educational, and so deeply delicious it’ll make all other food taste unseasoned.

Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Meju image
Meju image
Meju image

Meju’s chef isn't new to the scene. His first two restaurants, the now-closed Hanjan and Danji, paved the way for the recent boom in NYC Korean dining, and his banchan shop in LIC is a great place to pick up some kimchi and potato salad. In the back of that shop, you’ll find this tiny restaurant with a marble counter surrounding an open kitchen under a huge, metallic chandelier. The servers speak in whispers, and the only offering is a $185 meal centered around the art of fermentation.

Dinner amounts to around seven courses, all of which involve fermented elements, often in the form of a sauce or condiment. Dishes progress from snack to roughly entree, but, no matter the size, everything makes an impression. First, you’ll get a little bowl of tofu topped with an earthy doenjang broth so opaque it’s almost ink. Next, you’ll eat a few slivers of uncommonly luxurious amberjack while the chef tells you about the epiphanies he’s experienced under the mentorship of an “ancient medicine man” based in Jeju. Around the ssam course, Etta James might come on the stereo, setting the proper mood for New York strip that dissolves in your mouth, and pork collar topped with preserved shrimp that’ll make you feel like you’re eating in HD.

Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Meju image
Meju image
Meju image
Meju image

The chef’s mentor ages his shrimp for 35 years, but Meju doesn’t have that kind of time. Here, it’s only seven years—and you can taste every one. At some point, you’ll also receive a dab of 128-year-old soy sauce on the back of your hand. Concentrated and yeasty, it's both sweeter and less salty than you’d expect.

Meju is a deeply nerdy place. But even when the chef goes on about his illuminati-esque mentor, or uses words like “culmination” and “ten years of training,” it never feels self-serious. If you’re a probiotics enthusiast, this restaurant is non-optional. You might even learn a thing or two. You do not, however, need an academic interest in fermented foods to comprehend how good they can taste.

@infatuation_nyc if you have a fermentation kink, start saving up for meju's tasting menu #meju #kimchinyc #littlebanchanshop #koreanrestaurantsnyc ♬ Daily Bread - L.Dre

Food Rundown

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Tasting Menu

The ingredients change from week to week, but the structure of Meju's $185 tasting menu stays the same, as outlined below.
Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Doenjang + Tofu

To start things off, you'll receive a small bowl of tofu, chives, and mushroooms covered in a doenjang broth. The broth is thin as chicken stock, but it packs a concentrated flavor that hits every taste bud.
Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Gochujang + Hwe

The last few times we visited, Meju's hwe course was made with amberjack, and it was some of the butteriest fish we've encountered. Whatever you receive, it'll come topped with a bit of gochujang and some crunchy sesame seeds that burst like caviar.
Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Gangjang + Jeon

The jeon course consists of a few delicate fried bites—like matsutake and seaperch—that serve as vehicles for a soy sauce tasting. During this portion of the meal, the chef will remind you that soy sauce is a sauce, not just a source of salt. When you try the 128-year-old version, you'll be inclined to agree.
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Ssamjang + Beef

With the ssam course, you get two small cuts of beef, like marinated short rib and New York strip. The meat is incredibly marbled, and the two ssamjangs on the side are good enough to eat plain. If you need more seasoning (you don't, but it doesn't hurt), there are a few different salts on the side.

Jeotgal + Pork

Another ultra-fatty piece of meat, this time pork collar garnished with seven-year-old preserved shrimp. It's a powerful bite of food.
Meju image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Kimchi + Rice

Meju's final savory course (before a dessert that's essentially a light, pleasant palate cleanser) is a homestyle spread of kimchi, pork belly, rice, a fried egg, and gim. It's nothing fancy, and it's the perfect, simple cap to a meal that already had a lot going on.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

Suggested Reading

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Little Banchan Shop

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When you’re dreaming of banchan, gopchang, and Korean fried chicken, here’s where to go.

9 Great Spots For Banchan In NYC image

Lots of places in NYC serve good banchan, but these are the 9 best spots for kimchi, namul, bokkeum, and more.

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A charming little shop in Bay Ridge, Kimchi Kooks is a family-run operation selling banchan, pantry items, and a few made-to-order dishes.

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