K-Town, the section of the city in the low 30’s just east of Fifth Avenue, is fairly teeming with Korean barbecues. A newcomer to the area, 9-week-old Hyun, sets itself apart by procuring not just Wagyu beef but the vaunted A5 grade of the meat, which is to lesser grades what steak is to Hamburger Helper.
Unlike our own beef grading system in the U.S., beef in Japan is judged along four dimensions, the most important being marbling, which is scored on a scale from 1 to 5, with one of the letters A, B, or C designating yield. The best USDA prime available equates to about a 4 on the Japanese scale.
As at other Korean barbecues, the grilling at Hyun takes place at your table, but here induction flattops are used in place of conventional habachis, which results in less smoke. Since the beef is cooked, moreover, in cast-iron skillets, you are ensured a more pronounced sear, which heightens the essential beefiness.
Your first encounter with Wagyu beef can come, if you’re so inclined, during your first course by ordering chadol-jjim: slivers of brisket wrapped around enoki mushrooms and minty perilla leaves, steamed and arranged on a foundation of bean sprouts. You moisten the bundles with sweet and tangy yuzu ponzo.
But the star of the show is the grilled beef. After determining your preferred degree of doneness, your server/chef melts a block of wagyu fat and browns a sprig of rosemary and a garlic clove. He then assiduously sears the cut on all surfaces before carving it into bite-sized morsels.
Whichever cut of beef you choose is exquisitely marbled. The ribeye, one of the more expensive cuts priced at $58 for three ounces, is impossibly buttery and tender, but, surprisingly, “lowly” cuts like chuck flap are no less complex or transporting — unlike any steak you’ve ever had.
The beef is accompanied by a sprightly slaw of chopped cabbage, shishito peppers, and chives, moistened with soy sauce, and a trio of seasoning salts. The best of these is scented with black truffle, though a Cabernet Sauvignon variant and one moistened with sesame oil also make sweet harmony with the beef.
Nearly all of the cuts are available in 3-ounce portions, but when you’re feasting on A5 Wagyu, bear in mind the old adage about less being more, which applies here in spades. Beef this rich can easily become cloying if you overdo it.
Besides which, you won’t want to miss one of the “pot-cooked rice” dishes offered under the heading sot bap. The version done with sea urchin (uni) and black truffle could easily become habit-forming. The waiter lifts the lid off the clay pot and you are enveloped in a profoundly fragrant umami cloud. The dish serves two.
A unique and somewhat elegant feature of the Hyun experience is the service. Each table is assigned its own personal waiter/consultant, who oversees the grilling, serving a function not unlike that of captains in French restaurants in New York’s golden era of haute gastronomy. Hyun is one of the best restaurants to come along in some time.
Price range: $12 to $46 for starters, $44 to $59 for a three-ounce portion of A5 Wagyu beef, $17 to $34 for other main courses.
Hyun, 10 E. 33rd Street, is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday.