A Taste of Pyongyang.
BY Robin Hemley
A Taste of Pyongyang, the newest eatery by the secretive North Korean phenom, Jimmy Kim, combines uncompromising Totalitarian food concepts with a flair for the dramatic.
The spent (hopefully) nuclear fuel rods lining the wall of ATOP give diners their first clue that this will not be a normal or even a necessarily pleasant dining experience. That’s because Kim’s culinary philosophy radically departs from the views of most restaurateurs. Kim, a graduate of the Dear Leader Culinary Institute in Pyongyang, believes that you should suffer as much as humanly possible in his establishment. This is evident from the moment you walk though the front door, past the guards dressed in full military garb with automatic weapons on their shoulders.
The maître d’ confronts you with his signature greeting of “Leave now or be completely and utterly annihilated.” On a good night he’ll be so menacing you won’t help but be intimidated into finding another eating establishment, but the strong of heart, if not stomach, are advised to ignore this bit of cutlery rattling and instead simply asked to be seated.
After a lengthy stare down, the maître d’ shows you to your table. Once seated, you must adhere to two conditions: you will cook your own meal with your own ingredients, and no photography. If you refuse these terms, you will be warned that a crushing defeat will soon be brought down upon your soul. Don’t give in, though; stick to your guns (to coin a phrase), and ask calmly for a menu. But don’t press your luck by asking for water. This is very important.
The menu is full of North Korean delectables like, Kim Chee and Pesto ragout over broiled Tilapia and Bulgoki and pheasant eggs over mushroom medley. However, don’t bother too much with deciding what to order because in the end it won’t really matter, as the only dish served is the Patriotic Rice Dish, which consists of several rice grains that were personally inspected (and rejected) by the food tasters of Kim Jong Il. It’s served in a lacquer bowl with a stone spork.
While it might be tempting to send your food back and ask for the dish you actually ordered, this would be unwise. Instead, after the Patriotic Rice Dish has been set before you, ask the waiter if there’s anything else you can do for him, and he’ll more likely than not leave you alone. But if it’s a slow night you might get lucky and he’ll harangue you for a half an hour about your acts of belligerence.
Once you’ve cleared the table, stitched the required half-dozen “People’s Leisure Suits,” and washed your own dishes in the water trough out back, your evening will come to an abrupt close, and you’ll be blindfolded and whisked away to an unknown location in Tribeca.
You may come away from it all feeling confused and exhausted, but for Jimmy Kim that’s the whole point. Of his restaurant’s dining experience, he proclaims: “I WANT THE RUNNING DOGS OF CAPITALISM WHO DINE HERE TO UNDERSTAND THAT THEY HAVE NO HOPE OF FINDING BETTER FOOD ANYWHERE IN MANHATTAN, AND IF THEY TRY, THEY WILL BE SMASHED LIKED ROTTING ONIONS.”
A Taste of Pyongyang
Dress code: Immaterial, but burial attire recommended, just in case.
Reservations: None, though binoculars and reconnaissance recommended.
Prices: A sincere effort to show respect for North Korean cuisine must be exhibited by a sufficient offering of hard currency via drugs, sophisticated weaponry, and/or blue prints of South Korean military installations.
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