2019 seems like centuries ago. Anything before Covid is now foggy, ancient memory. We often use “pre-pandemic” to describe certain trends and personal habits. For example before the pandemic I would only have Negronis in restaurants like Jeju Noodle Bar. Nowadays its just another Wednesday at Ziggy’s new and improved bar. We drink more at home, and spend more eating out. A full meal at a full service restaurant used to cost on average $150 for two not too long ago. These days its more like $180. Pre-Covid Jeju Noodle Bar was one of the best deals in town as I wrote in 2018. For $45 per person you got a 6 courser for the ages way back then. Then, a nasty virus struck. Michelin!
Michelin of course has its many pros. I just cant think of any at the moment ;). Oh ye, I reckon it’s a great achievement for the establishment, the ultimate accolade really. It often attracts more business, albeit a new, more demanding customer base. It definitely inspire those seeking stars, and keeps the starred chefs on guard. But the cons are too many to list here. One of which is that as a customer, you may pay dearly for the said inspiration and honor.
This is not so much a complaint, but a cool transformation story. As much as I would prefer the old Jeju, I’m genuinely happy for these guys. They reaped the rewards of smart and even brave moves early on, and created a formula that works for many. It was one of a kind back then, and even with the changes, one of a kind today. A Michelin starred semi fancy noodle joint. But its hard to ignore some of the changes, like the star dish Toro Ssam that was included in the original $45 tasting menu, is now a $55 caviar-ed triumph in itself. And the two piece fried chicken app that now includes caviar as well, comes with a $29 sticker shock.
These differences are mainly reflected in its smaller dishes. While its a “Noodle Bar” that specializes in Ramyun, Korean style Ramen, its smaller dishes are its strength and the main reason for the Michelin star. In fact it wouldnt be so wrong to only order appetizers at Jeju, and it would be a mistake to order a filling Ramyun for each person. And then you have the seemingly rotating two dry noodle dishes that are not shown on the main site menu. Last time there was an intense lobster pasta (Gajae-Myun) drenched with a fishy (in a good way) Sauce Americaine, and lobster emulsion. Its like a the pasta version of a sick lobster bisque.
The good news is that many of the small dishes are very shareable, even for four people. Take the half rack pork ribs. Plentiful, fall of the bone, and sauced to sweet and spicy perfection. But I wouldnt expect less for $30. I did expect less from the Gochujang Bokum with a comparably shocking tag of $13. But what I got was elevated comfort food in the form of beef ragu over rice topped with potato crisps, featuring flavors as explosive as the volcanos on Jeju island. The Amberjack, one of three raw fish dishes on the menu is probably the only skippable item we ever tasted here. The delicate Amberjack just got lost for me between all the sauces.
Articles, poems, and children books have been written about the Toro Ssam Bap over the years (eg “Ssam I am”, “Goodnight Toro Ssam”). I believe I even included it in one of my annual, not so anymore, Best Dishes of the year. I will probably resume it this year and pay more attention. The layers of rice, scrambled eggs, fatty tuna, and now Golden Osetra Caviar manufacture an umami filled spoonful. Or make it a freakishly good taco with the accompanied seaweed. Despite the price tag, its an absolute must signature, and such a great complement to the menu.
Its the only “Ramen” place where I would recommend to share one, or maybe even skip altogether. They are solid and worth trying, but just not as life changing as the smaller items. The often mentioned Wagyu Ramyun isnt as big of an upgrade as the price suggests ($45 vs mostly low $20’s). The high quality Wagyu brisket inside the delicious broth is good but not quite as outstanding as one would expect from Wagyu meat. The pork bone based Gochu, and the family Ramyun are well balanced, milky, and just rich enough. Sometimes Tonkotsu ramen can get too rich for my taste.
Wine list is fine. Beautiful decor, though less than ideal comfort levels if you get tables with benches instead of chairs. In the winter time, these benches dont work so well as there’s nowhere to put your coat or hang your man purse. Never sacrifice comfort for aesthetics, kids. Oddly no dessert, another change from the good ole days! Jeju is still a solid inclusion on the coveted Z-List, that some may argue more beneficial for consumers than Michelin stars. Go!
Jeju Noodle Bar
679 Greenwich St (West Village)
Recommended Dishes: Ribs, Gochujang Bokum, Toro Ssam, Gajae-Myun, Gochu Ramyun