Tasting menus and omakase can be outrageously expensive, annoyingly precious, and oddly unsatisfying. Like, you need to grab a slice after you're done so you don't go home hungry. And they can take so long! COVID cases may be dropping again, but I'm still not ready to spend over three hours in a dining room filled with strangers.

Fortunately, none of the above apply to the awesome new Mari on Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen, a new tasting menu restaurant from chef Sungchul Shim, whose other spot, the Michelin-starred Kochi, is located just a block away.

Dinner at Mari costs $125, which is a lot compared to most places I eat and also a bargain compared to some of its tasting menu or omakase peers around town. You get twelve courses (one of which is comprised of five different items), and each one is exciting, new, and loaded with big flavors. Bonus: from start to finish takes a nice 90 minutes or so, the perfect length for a pleasant night out.

At the core of the menu are the hand rolls, which are shaped like mini tacos and inspired, Shim told Gothamist, by kimbap, Korea's ubiquitous rice-based convenience store snack that comes stuffed with just about anything and everything you can imagine. And although Mari's rolls might look familiar to anyone who's eaten the tamakis at Nami Nori, among other places, Shim points out that the foundational flavors here are quite different from their Japanese counterparts.

"Mari's rice is seasoned the traditional way of kimbap," Shim said, "not with vinegar but with sesame seed, sesame oil, and then we mix it with scallion and daikon. And all the fish is soy marinated, in one of three different kinds of sauce, for as long as three days before we serve it."

The fillings are spectacular, from the Shim's bracing Salmon and Caviar opener to the impossibly tender, bulgogi-infused A5 Wagyu finale. King Oyster Mushrooms arrive in a pickly package, the Spicy Tuna is topped with crisp-fried shredded potato, the Mackerel is an oily joy, the Pork Belly comes sticky with ssamjang sauce, the Shrimp is steeped in egg yolk, and the Scallop is a barely charred masterpiece. I loved each one of these two-bite beauties.


Scott Lynch / Gothamist

Backtracking a bit, the party at Mari begins with Shim's Hansang course, composed of five amuse-bouches laid out smartly on a platter: a few dainty spoonfuls of an earthy acorn jelly, a lovely little eggplant ball, a bit of wagyu tartare, a lollipop of egg rice, and possibly the best single oyster I've ever eaten.

You also get two appetizer-sized dishes bookending the onslaught of hand rolls, and both are excellent. The Gyeran-Jjim, or steamed egg, is plopped into a pool of chili oil and surrounded by snappy bits of razor clam, little neck clam, shrimp, and scallop. And your final savory course, Guksu, is basically a bowl of ramen. When you finish the thinly sliced pork belly and slippery noodles, lift the whole vessel and drink all the bone broth down for a deeply satisfying end to your meal.

Except the meal isn't over yet! You've still got Shim's Choco Pie to eat, a considerably more refined (and delicious) version of the usual pre-packaged snack cake, complete with a glistening chocolate drizzle, black sesame marshmallow, and strawberry jam. There is also, of course, a full booze menu to keep you happy, including a selection of "premium sool," as well as high-end Korean green teas and mocktails.

The space is comfortable and stylish, with a small dining room in the back and a four-sided chef's counter surrounding the open kitchen. "This was important to us, so we can interact with our guests," Shim said. "It's more fun. It's more enjoyable." Both of those things are true. Mari is a terrific restaurant for a special occasion or random splurge.

Scott Lynch / Gothamist

Mari is located at 679 Ninth Avenue, between 46th and 47th Streets, and is currently open on Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (646-649-3545; marinyc.com)