If you are in search of an excellent Korean Omakase tasting menu, Chef Sungchul Shim of Mari has an exquisite experience prepared for you. You may have heard of him if you have visited the Kochi tasting counter down the street on 10th Avenue – if you haven’t, this review will make your mouth water and maybe even inspire you to head down there for your slice of Korean Michelin Star heaven.
When my friend Nik was visiting New York from France for just one evening in November 2023, I took the opportunity to visit this restaurant that I wanted to try for some time. I was worried it would be impossible to make a reservation. Fortunately for us, on a Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I called at 8:10 and got a reservation for 8:35.
It was a cold rainy evening, which probably helped with the reservation. The experience was astonishing. We were seated right at the bar and could see the entire cooking process, which I would love to call art, and when you see photos, you will know why I think that.
How I Heard About Mari
It’s an open secret that Hells Kitchen in Manhattan is hiding some incredible dining places. Over the years, I have traveled the world in a culinary sense without leaving my neighborhood. Sometimes, I would see new places when I walked down the street, which is how I discovered Mari. It always looks so busy, and that is a sign of excellent quality in New York.
I would often think about it passing by but would then forget about it until I searched for the restaurant on the internet and found out it is an up-and-coming place led by a Michelin-star chef. It went straight to the top of my to-visit list. It was just a matter of time for the perfect opportunity to come and try these incredible dishes.
Mari is located in Manhattan on Hells Kitchen’s Ninth Avenue, between 46th and 47th streets. Looks are definitely deceptive when it comes to Mari. At first, you might think it is one of many Korean hand-roll parlors, but it is so much more.
However, for a $145 tasting menu, you will be more than surprised by the combinations of taste and the absence of tuna, which appears only in one course.
Mari Layout & Atmosphere
Once you step foot inside, you are hit by a wave of excellence right at the door. You are warmly greeted by the staff. They check your reservation and take you to your seat in anticipation of the feast to follow.
At the entrance is a gorgeous flower display, which smoothly transitions you from a busy New York Street into a stunning lounge. Despite a young age, Mari has earned Michelin Star ratings for both 2022 and 2023, posted on the wall.
Fortunately, we were seated at the minimalist bar counter seating overlooking the food preparation, so we had the perfect view of masters in action.
To the back is an area with tables for a more secluded and intimate feel – I noticed this was area was packed and quite loud until closing. The counter seating felt both quieter than the table seating, and it’s where you’ll have the most fun watching the chefs create dishes. In either location, you will always have direct communication with the staff.
To get the full experience, you have to try the counter seating. It is the best place to sit for first-comers who want to observe the food preparation process from their seat.
This location gives the restaurant its best feature – the intimate cooking experience, like having a private chef prepare the most delicious bites for you.
At Mari, the incredible cooking show is the center of the experience, and the elegant ambiance did not take away from the star of the evening – food. The experience is so striking that you feel compelled to photograph and document the journey.
The table seating in the back of the restaurant provides a more familial atmosphere, if you’re a party greater than two or are looking to face your partner.
If it is a busy night, it may get crowded and loud, but otherwise provides a different kind of intimate experience. On our visit, this area was fully packed and loud until closing time (when I finally grabbed these photos).
The main drawback of the seating area is that you end up missing out on all the action in the food preparation area, which is one of Mari’s most unique features.
The Mari Experience
What can I say? The service at Mari is immaculate and what you would expect from a Michelin-rated establishment. I was served individually by almost everyone working at the restaurant at different times, so we interacted with everyone on staff that night throughout the experience.
In my experience this is a very good mark of a high-quality service vendor – often seen in first class on highly regarded airlines. The staff rotates to talk to everybody, and you get the same level of service from every single person.
For example, on LaCompagnie, there’s a Michelin chef per snack or meal – for cocktails, cold starters, cheese, and dessert, and then the bread is split up that way as well. That is how high-quality carriers demonstrate that they are head and shoulders above the rest.
We also noticed the obsessive attention to presentation, including cleaning plates prior to service so that the food looks and photographs better.
The Mari Menu
The Mari menu is a pre-fixe at $145 USD for twelve courses. For an additional $37 USD, the Toro Caviar supplement can also be added. I loved that the menu is shown in English and Korean, but the descriptions were brief as to not give away the contents and experience we would soon have.
For those so inclined and for an additional $110 USD, you can also add a Sool (Korean alcoholic) pairing with each course.
Now, let’s get to the food!
The pre-fixe menu began with two starter courses, before we moved to the hand rolls. The waiter explained the details of each dish upon serving, a pattern that continued thru all courses.
First Course: Jeonchae
The first course were three bite-sized appetizers all placed together on a single circular dish – Fish Jeon, Gougere, and Daikon.
The first appetizer, the Fish Jeon, was extra firm tofu with a fish taste. I loved the texture of the first – it was very sushi like, kind of sweet, and had extra firm tofu with a fishy taste.
Second up was Gougere, which comes with potatoes, a little bit of fermented black beans, as well as some truffles and some squid crumbs . This was very French and truffle forward, so soft and pastry light, and really tasted exquisite with the fermented red beans.
Third up was the Daikon, with a coffee glaze, with a little bit of celery on top of crispy leeks. This was a flavor explosion. We both remarked it was hard to make a vegetable taste like that. The flavor bomb had both spice and savory flavor, and even more came out as I bit into it.
Second Course: Mandu
The second course, Mandu, consisted of smoked trout roe with seaweed, that was presented beautifully in a green-covered cup. It actually reminded me of the type of presentation you get on Asiana Airlines in Business Class.
This delicious dish had a kimchi taste and was spicy and thick but with a creamy texture. With the roe on top, the dish was beautifully balanced with the perfect ratio of fermented chill and oil. It left a delicious long aftertaste.
It was now time for the third course, and we were informed that this is the hand-roll section of the meal. The dishes for the third course were brought to the table, and along with it the waiter brought a miracle-grown hand towel to the table…
… and added some water to it.
Third Course: Salmon
The third course, unsurprisingly, like almost everything else, was amazing and consisted of a Salmon Mari. This was soy marinated and presented with fresh ground sesame seeds, Korean yellow mustard, and Golden Kaliyah caviar.
I must admit I have never had Korean Nigiri before! And the first thing that came to mind was wow, “that is the thinnest layer of rice I have ever seen.” When it comes to taste, it very much tastes like it looks. A thin layer of pickle with mustard and salmon.
Before moving on to the fourth course, we decided order a drink and had the Lao Gong Ting tea mentioned above.
Fourth Course: Scallops
The fourth course was a very interesting bunch of flavors. The dish consisted of Scallops from Hokkaido with fermented persimmon jalapeño. It was served with a slice of Jalapeno and one of sweet seaweed and was garnished with pickled daikon on top.
The one-bite course was the least favorite of all the dishes I had that night probably because it had so much happening on the flavor front. It was crunchy due to the rice cracker-like seaweed, but it also had a soft texture from the scallops.
Fifth Course: Mushroom
Complex is the first thing that comes to mind when describing the fifth course. It was made up of a mushroom base, with a shot of chickpea pure on top. The structure was further built with roasted. Mytakis, topped with fried Okies and a small number of black truffles.
This was not a food dish and resembled a fine art sculpture. While it looked random and like an alien creation, you could tell how much art and talent went into making it.
By far, the best way to eat truffles is when they are fresh. These were superb and grated finely, which gave them a delicate, balanced taste. No, the usual punch-in-the-face truffle tases you can often get.
Although this was a mushroom-heavy dish, it had a stunning taste with a firm texture. I would like to describe it as “mushroom four ways.”
Sixth Course: Kingfish
This a premium Jackfish from Japan alongside a pulled seaweed. The amberjack has a mustard marinade with no soy. One thing to note is that this yellowtail always has that rosé look despite the name.
The fish was amazingly fresh, and the dish had a very smooth taste, combining three or four different flavors. This was because, below the fish, there was a layer of seaweed sandwiched between a thicker layer of rice. Alone, the seaweed had an excellent taste that added so much to the dish.
Seventh Course: Spicy Tuna
I guess lucky number seven is a very apt saying since the seventh course was one of my favorites. The Spicy tuna was seasoned with mayo, and served with grated sweet potatoes, seasoned jochugaro Korean spicy garlic.
Wow, this dish blew me away with its flavor and delicious spicy crunch. The dish is a masterful blend of flavors that carry through from the first bite to the aftertaste.
Typically, spicy tuna is made from leftover less than premium grade. However, this was by far the best spicy tuna I have ever had.
Eighth Course: Salmon Belly
This course was definitely a love-it-or-hate-it affair, made with Salmon with lemon, crème fraîche chives, and toasted sesame.
I must say I still liked it despite its controversial nature; I found the dish to have a very smoky aftertaste with a crunchy beginning.
Ninth Course: Sea Bream, Urchin, Caviar
Perhaps the most controversial roll of the night, the Sea Bream Urchin with Caviar has a strong and slimy taste with the sea urchin on top. Definitely a beautiful dish, and good if you’re a fan of the urchin texture.
Not all of us are Sea Urchin fans, this one was definitely an eccentric taste and one I tried to eat as fast as possible.
Tenth Course (Supplement): Toro Caviar
This was the last hand roll course and the special supplement for an extra charge. The rolls has Toro caviar along with Onion, the Kaluga, bro, lemon reduction Acre, yellow mustard, and chives on top of caviar, sous vide egg sauce, golden Guga onions.
This has a very spicy taste on the side. It was so good that it was maybe my second favorite out of everything.
What I really enjoyed was the complexity of the flavor. It’s got about at least five or six different layers of taste and spiciness. Not to mention the egg yolk was like butter, and the whole dish was executed perfectly.
For the finale, our rolls dishes were taken away and we were readied for a new type of dish.
Eleventh course: Guksu
The Guksu is a Rice Noodles Crescent Ducks Banchan. The waiters brought our rice noodles on a tray full of condiments, unassembled, and told us about the ingredients – we can mix/match as we please. This was an impressive combination of flavors alongside the rice noodles and duck.
You have multiple sides, including:
- Pickled vegetables
- Pumpkin seeds
Two additional seasoning options are provided with the dish – green mustard and pumpkin oil.
At first glance, this seems like a very plain dish; however, when you mix and match, you end up with a very interesting mix of flavors and textures. You can make it as plain or complex as you like, depending on how you mix it up. It’s a good strategy to do some little samples to try the different flavor combinations before you commit to mixing everything in.
The duck shavings are amazing and have an almost candy-like quality. However, this dish is very complex, and whether you enjoy it or not will depend on what you put into it. One thing I did notice is that adding too much mustard sauce gives a kind of fast-food flavor, so it should be avoided.
After this dish, the tray was pulled and we were prepared for the dessert courses.
Twelfth Course Dessert: Sujeonggwa
At first glance, this appears to be a simple pine nuts and carrot cake. But it is so much more and has even more punch with the addition of ginger, cinnamon, and persimmon.
Wow, this was fantastic, and tasted amazing despite it looking extremely ordinary. It is a simple-looking dish with some frosting and two or three little balls packed with one hell of a punch.
It was delicious, subtle, strong, and everything in between. The perfect desert!
Thirteenth Course: Choco Pie
The thirteenth course is a relatively simple offering considering the evening’s previous servings. It consisted of banana ice cream with a dessert date cake and Chocolate cake on the side.
Things were not done there, and we also got a bonus pecan with sesame dessert cake, with a chocolate and a pecan on top. Every single item was outstanding.
The dessert was accompanied but the dessert wine, as well as roasted green tea, and then we had some black Madeline green tea.
Fourteenth Course (Bonus): Sweets
For Thanksgiving as an occasion, we were served a bonus fourteenth course! Along with the bill came a small selection of sweets that included:
- Chocolate filled with green tea truffle.
- Mandarin and pear hochita bonbon.
- Small chocolate dessert.
All were very tasty and delicious, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.
Mari has a separate and extensive drinks menu. We got to sample several drinks on our visit, including whiskey, coffee, and tea. There are some very rare and special offerings to enjoy.
They were all excellent in flavor, texture, and service.
The shelves are every whiskey lover’s dream, filled with a beautiful collection of rare whiskeys. This adds another layer to the Mari experience, and it is not only a perfect food destination but a whiskey-tasting destination as well.
We first decided to try the Ichiros Special Edition. It was super smooth and light with an almost water-like taste and without a long finish. This delightful drink sticks to your tongue while water unlocks some spice on the front end of the drink.
Overall, it had a very mild taste with a stronger, spicier aftertaste that sticks to the back of your throat. Unfortunately, they only had enough for one pour left, but we got to sample it.
We moved on to the Akashi whiskey and some Mars Shu, AKI, 2021 bourbon and Sherry. This is a combination of Pinot Noir and whiskey. It can only be described as an explosion of tastes and flavors.
The taste was super spicy with all the rich red wine textures you would expect, but with not of the dry notes you would associate with red wine.
However, it also has a hint of Vanilla, bourbon, and sweetness, and it does not taste like a dry red wine at all, but it has that distinct grape taste. Why New York never had anything similar to this, I will never know.
We chose a nice Italian dessert wine, the sherry 12 Years Chianti Vin Santo.
The exact details of how it’s made is a mystery. However, I do recall that it involves adding sun dried grapes to the barrel after months to feed the fermentation and let that delicious grape flavor come through.
This is an Ethiopia Dangora cooperative Sidamo decaf and was served piping hot in a 5oz cup.
We decided to have some tea and made some inquiries with the waiting staff. After hearing that, we wondered what type of tea one was; she informed us it was Lao Gong Ting. That is when I heard a voice from an earlier trip in my head!
“This is the best beer we ever made.”
De Garde has created a beer with this type of tea, it is an old fermented tea that they got in Taiwan. The farmer they sourced called it “The Qi” which is 50-year-old fermented tea. They also have “The Qi 2” with 70-year-old fermented tea.
Our tea was poured individually at each seat and came in a grey teacup. It tasted amazing.
I’m sure you’re most curious to know how much something like this costs. In the end for two people for all of this, we spent $644 before tip.
The high cost in this case was largely our whiskey choices – and granted, Mari has a great selection.
What can I say? If you ever get the chance and love Korean food in a similar to Omakase style, then Mari must be on your list the next time you are in New York.
A hidden gem gave us an extraordinary nearly fourteen course culinary experience, with cool whisky and teas to boot.
This review is one I share with friends often, and one that I will not forget anytime soon! If you love food and tasting a menu crafted with passion, then head over to Mari. You will not regret it.