Despite the Diva Act, Kristalbelli Serves a Solid Lunch
As ML overlord Zach Brooks has been saying for years, Food is the New Rock, and we’ve seen a trend of musicians getting into the food game, whether it’s Questlove getting his fried chicken on with David Chang, or musicians opening their own restaurants. And now the amalgamation of food and rock has reached across the Pacific by way of South Korea with Kristalbelli (8 West 36th Street between 5th & 6th Ave), a Korean restaurant with a diva’s pedigree – a production by legendary recording artist and producer, Park Jin Young (aka JYP).
JYP is an impresario of recording acts and pre-fab K-pop groups, although he built his empire off of a long-spanning solo career. In short, he’s the Kanye West of South Korea, with a slightly cleaner image. In keeping with his swagger, Mr. Park is at first an entertainer. The dining room is clean, modern, and adorned with pretty, shiny things. Kristalbelli’s website and twitter stream advertises kitschy campaigns like Lady’s Night and a Father’s Day dinner. The hostesses could moonlight as models and the waiters’ outfits consist of matching button up shirts and precisely coiffed hair. The restaurant’s theme is exuberance and excess, right down to the ‘crystal’ grills, which burn hot and clean, and promise impeccable flavors with less smoke.
Early diners have squawked about the pricing structure at Kristalbelli, and there is plenty of room for critique. A single serving of grilled meat can be audaciously priced – a serving of NY strip or ribeye will cost you $47 and filet is an eye popping $51 (similar dishes will run you about $15-20 less at neighboring K-town joints).
But there is a lunch menu now, and while nothing is within a $10 ML threshold, there are sensible dining options on the menu that are worthy of a visit. Like the rather good preparation of sundubu jjigae ($12). The slightly spicy soup of soft tofu, protein (your choice of beef or seafood), and chunks of zucchini and scallions comes with plenty of side dishes – several varieties of kimchi, seasoned vegetables and either white or 5-grain rice (ogok bap).
Order the beef sundubu jjigae, and the first spoonful registers an impressively bold meaty slurp, a broth that significantly stands out amongst its peers on 32nd st. The next few bites yield fantastically velvety tofu, tender nubs of beef and toothsome vegetables. To poke holes in the dish, the broth was a bit wan and watery compared to my gold standard of BCD, but a swirl of raw egg yolk boosts the richness. It may not unseat BCD Tofu House as my favorite bowl of soup in K-town, but it should impress, satisfy, and fill bellies, even at the aggressive price point.
In many ways, Kristalbelli defies convention, for better or worse. The dining room distracts with its chintz, the menu is befuddling in its extravagance, but despite the mixed messages, the kitchen seems to know what it’s doing.
Kristalbelli, 8 W. 36th St. (btw. 5+6th). 212-290-2211