Suhum Jang has a vision. The general manager and partner of the new Hortus NYC imagined a restaurant where New Yorkers could discover flavors from Korea, China, Thailand, Japan and Vietnam as a part of contemporary, shareable process. However, arguably even more than a fusion of these cuisines, Hortus NYC is a fusion of Asian dining with the archetypal New York restaurant experience.
Jang, who looks every part the burgeoning restaurateur with his fade haircut and sleek suit, is a front-of-house veteran of hot spots Per Se and Daniel; later, working in Koreatown, he piqued investors’ attention with a colorfully branded churro business. His background, along with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, made him an expert in both Southeast Asian cooking and the most beloved components of New York dining culture.
For example, the menu begins with a raw bar featuring some of the usual favorites, but Asian condiments and ingredients lift up dishes such as oysters on the half shell with gochujang and plum mignonette or king crab with creme fraiche, Asian pear and red sorrel. The crunchy Ssamjang hummus gets its name from a Korean barbecue sauce and comes with vibrant crudités reminiscent of the city’s top spring menus. Hortus NYC even veers slightly Italian with a play on aglio e olio, this one with bok choy, bean sprouts and garlic oil.
Executive chef Seungjoon Choi does introduce plenty of originals, though. Crispy sea urchin on rice paper is a pop of richness, and a steamed rice roll oozes spicy shrimp and XO sauce. After the teasers, diners can split large plates including an enormous seafood pot containing steamed cod, scallops, mussels, shrimp Thai basil and makrut lime, all soaked in a delicious broth. Grilled ribeye with wild mushrooms and galbi sauce was inspired by Jang’s love of American steakhouses, but he wanted to find his own version of a steak sauce.
He says this menu was intended for sharing among friends, who should focus on each dish individually. “I want to create a nice experience for them that balances out Asian flavors throughout the meal,” he says, adding that he hopes the eatery becomes “the Asian Balthazar or Scarpetta.”
In addition to coming up with the culinary concept, he developed the entire beverage program himself, choosing a robust selection of wines, beers, sake and soju-based cocktails, from the mango and lavender Moonrise to the thyme and lime 5th Ave.
Jang’s father, who is in construction, came up from Virginia to work on the space, and a designer friend from Korea, Youngmi Ham, did the interiors. Complete with two stories, an outdoor terrace and an ethereal lighting installation from Moooi, the aesthetic is very Manhattan in style with the simplicity of typical Asian restaurant decor, plus, of course, Jang’s own perspective. He tells a story of disliking certain club chairs once they arrived and hence undertaking a personal quest to outfit his restaurant with the perfect seating throughout.
All of these elements seamlessly converge to create gastronomic harmony. “Creating something special is really hard to do [in this city],” Jang says. “New Yorkers want to enjoy Asian restaurants comfortably. As we present this menu to New York City, we really want to be a restaurant for the neighborhood.”
What to Drink
The fragrant cucumber-based Garden cocktail is a nice aperitif before diving into the wine or sake menus.
Where to Sit
Hortus NYC has an open kitchen, so grab a seat at the bar, where you can chat up the chefs and hear the woks sizzle.
How to Indulge
The menu contains only a couple of sweet items, but rice pudding with mango and black lime is the perfect way to finish off a fresh but filling dinner.
271 Fifth Ave.
Tues.-Wed, 5:30-11:30pm; Thurs-Fri., 5:30pm-12:30am; Sat., 11:00am-3:30pm, 5:30pm-12:30am;
Sun., 11:00am-3:30pm, 5:30-11:30pm
Cocktails, $10-$12; small plates, $10-$16; large plates, $25-$42