Kyoto has its kaiseki dinners. France has its haute cuisine menus dégustation. But when it comes to Korean food, the first thing we tend to think of is either the smoked-filled DIY barbecue joints or the bulgogi sliders (among other brash Seoul food mash-ups) slung out the back of Roy Choi's Kogi truck.
Sung Anh, an up-and-coming chef with South Korean roots and a French Laundry pedigree, is about to change that with the debut of his new tasting menu-only restaurant, Mosu. The fine dining restaurant, which opened last week in San Francisco's Fillmore District—a neighborhood with its own rich Asian heritage and home to an increasing numbers of culinary hot spots, such as State Bird Provisions and The Progress—draws from Anh's breadth of culinary experience to deliver a kaiseki-style $195 tasting menu with "Asian and contemporary American influences" that's executed with traditional and modern techniques.
Anh, along with Hooni Kim (of Danji, the first Korean restaurant in New York to receive a Michelin star), Dennis Lee (of San Francisco's acclaimed Namu Gaji) and Anh's mentor, Corey Lee (former Thomas Keller Restaurant Group phenom and chef/owner of the three-starred Benu in San Francisco), are part of a small brigade of unaffiliated Korean American chefs who are slowly infiltrating the fine dining establishment with the foodways of their heritage.
After a decade of cooking in some of the country's top restaurants (The French Laundry, Benu, Urasawa, Aziza), executing the techniques and flavors of other people's cuisine (French, Japanese, Moroccan), and years of personal travel (including four years in the army, a yearlong tour in Iraq and a stint as a corporate chef in Korea), it's Anh's turn to tell his own story on the plate. The nightly 10-to-12-course tasting menu doesn't follow any strict tradition, but rather it paints a unique culinary narrative that incorporates the "combination of the textures and flavors of China, the fermentation of Korea and the simplicity of Japan."
Despite the presence of globe-trotting ingredients, such as cured tuna belly, white sturgeon caviar and brown butter, at its core, Mosu is a Korean-driven venture, with a kitchen tricked out with a binchotan-charcoal grill, jars filled with fermenting cabbage and kombu broth simmering away on the stovetop. Even the restaurant's name, Mosu, is derived from the Korean pronunciation of the cosmos flower ("co-so-mo-su"), a vibrant perennial Anh vividly remembers growing wild around his childhood home in Korea and rediscovered years later in Napa Valley while working at The French Laundry. The namesake flower is the basis of the restaurant's logo and a recurring leitmotif in the dark wood panel cutouts that accent the minimalist, 18-seat, bilevel dining room, which is intentionally devoid of art, tablecloths and a sound system. "We're always on our phones or getting some sort of sensory input," Anh laments. He strove to create a relaxing space where diners can simply enjoy the food and the company of their companions. A selection of wine, sake and beer, curated by master sommelier Kevin Reilly (formerly of Cyrus and Quince), rounds out the food ( all are available by the glass).
Along with his Korean American brethren, Anh is inclined to simply refer to his cuisine as "contemporary American," but the opening-week menu contains plenty of Korean-inspired Easter eggs, such as burdock root filled with cultured butter, crispy sansho berries and fermented kombu, and acorn mook, a jelly-like delicacy made from ground acorn flour served with shiitake broth, gingko nut and bone marrow. Even the most soigné sounding "sea moss and foie gras soup" is actually a riff on the humble seaweed soup (miyeok guk) that's traditionally served to women after giving birth and when celebrating birthdays. In Anh's elevated version, boiling house-made kombu broth is poured tableside over Korean-imported sea moss and cubes of cured foie gras, and accompanied by a bowl of perfectly steamed rice and barbecued marinated baby squid, but the intention is the same. "I want people to feel like dining here is a special occasion."
Diners don't need to be Korean or have traveled through Asia to appreciate their meals at Mosu. Take the amuse-bouche of crispy cod milt (aka cod sperm sac) served with house-made jang (a Korean-style miso made from soybeans) and pickled kohlrabi, which Anh served on opening night. "Fried, pickled and hot are the essence of Korean cuisine," Anh says. But when a couple from England raved about the dish, insisting that it reminded them of fish and chips, he was thrilled. "I just knew that it tasted good," but it's really cool that "something that represents my culture can be appreciated by someone from a different background."
Bringing milt to the masses? Now that takes balls.
Find Mosu here, or in our DINE app.
Find The French Laundry here, or in our DINE app.
Find State Bird Provisions here, or in our DINE app.
Find The Progress here, or in our DINE app.
Find Danji here, or in our DINE app.
Find Namu Gaji here, or in our DINE app.
Find Benu here, or in our DINE app.
Find Urasawa here, or in our DINE app.
Find Quince here, or in our DINE app.
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