“We were just voted the best Asian barbecue restaurant in New York,” said Philip, the general manager of Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. “We’re getting a lot of buzz these days, because Korean food is very trendy right now.” And Baekjeong, founded by Korean wrestler and TV personality Kang Ho-dong, is the trendiest of all. It is a favorite hangout of actors and celebrities, and has received high praise from celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain and David Chang.
At Baekjeong (the Korean word for “butcher”), meat is king. But while Korean barbecue traditionally makes use of the second-best cuts of meat, marinating them for flavor, Philip emphasized that Baekjeong uses only the highest-quality meat. “We don’t even marinate it,” he added.
Between the quality of the meat and the reputation of executive chef Deuki Hong, a twenty-five year old prodigy who recently won the 2015 Young Guns Chef award, Baekjeong has become one of the hottest new restaurants in New York. The wait to be seated, Philip told me, is sometimes as long as an hour and a half.
By all accounts, it is worth the wait. As customers munch on small starter dishes known as banchan, waiters prepare the meat - mainly beef and pork - on large metal grills set into each table. Another highlight at Baekjeong is dosirak, a traditional Korean children’s lunchbox filled with rice, kimchi, and a fried egg. In the seventies, Philip explained, Korean kids always shook up their metal lunch boxes before eating them, and at Baekjeong - which aims for a “1970s industrial Korea feel” - customers are encouraged to do the same. But Philip emphasized that guests who do not know much about Korean food should not be worried. The waiters, who all speak English and Korean, “make sure to cater to customers who don’t know what’s going on.”
For the most part, though, the Chinese tourists and Americans who make up most of Baekjeong’s clientele (“Koreans don’t like to wait in line,”) do know what is going on.
“No one just walks in off the street,” Philip told me. “The kind of people who come here are in the know.”
It appears that only a few short weeks after opening Osamil in the early fall of 2016, the three partners of Nomad Izakaya have another hit on their hands. At 5: 00pm when Tom, the photographer for Manhattan Sideways, and I walked in, there were a few people milling about at the impressive white marble bar. By the time we left, about an hour and a half later, there was not a seat to be had upfront, and the tables for dinner were rapidly being filled. Both Nathan, the manager, and Moku, one of the owners, greeted us with big smiles, enthusiastically showing off the beautiful decor. Staring at the front mural - with 5th Avenue and 31st Street signs painted on it - Nathan enlightened us that O-sam-il means 5, 3, 1 in Korean. From their doorway, one can see the real signs outside. The numbers have added significance, because in addition to being on 5th and 31st, the restaurant's address is 5 West 31st. When the team first found this space, they had to strip everything down. When they came upon the brick wall on one side, they decided to sand it and leave it exposed. The end result is a checker board design that is strikingly different than other spaces I have seen. A Korean friend of Moku's did the mural on the rest of the wall. "We told him to do whatever he wanted - to use his imagination. " Moonsub Shin did just that, creating a soft gray design that is soothing and beautiful. The wood tables and short stools are spread down the middle of the restaurant with a few booths along the edges. Liquor lockers span the entire opposite wall, filled with customer's personal alcohol. Be it a fine bottle of Scotch or a vintage wine or bourbon, customers are welcome to store whatever they would like in their secured cubby - for a small corkage fee. Straight in the back lies the open kitchen where Chef David Lee performs his magic. Osamil is different from more traditional Korean eateries found just a few blocks away. Here they are striving to be more "modern and upscale" while still being reminiscent of a typical Korean barbecue restaurant. After showing us around and chatting about Osamil, Nathan and Moku invited Tom and I to take a seat at the bar to await some dishes that we could photograph. Little did we realize that the presentation of these dishes would last for a delightful forty-five minutes. The first to arrive was a sizzling plate of cured shrimp, sauteed shishito peppers with broccoli rabe, and beef tartar. Each dish was presented on a unique plate as a culinary work of art. It was not long before a medley of grilled mushrooms and a large marinated lamb chop covered in a mix of herb and pine nuts were placed in front of us. While we watched Gelo, the bartender, whip up several intriguing cocktails, a 100-year-old oak board was put before us with a very large, crispy port shank. A knife and fork stuck out from the top and the shank was surrounded by a shaved apple salad, lettuce leaves, and three small bowls with an array of pickled relishes. Once Tom had finished taking photos of this impressive meal for two, he was instructed to grab a lettuce leaf and fill it with meat, salad, and a relish of his choice. It was great fun and, he assured me, very tasty. There is no doubt that Osamil is off to a fine beginning.
When I asked the Manhattan Sideways team how they would best describe the atmosphere at Hangawi, they said at once, “tranquil…serene. ” I knew we would have a delicious culinary experience at this vegetarian Korean restaurant, but I had no idea how pleasant and peaceful it would be. Barely through the front door, we were politely asked to remove our shoes and leave them on the floor. On the way out, we just found them neatly placed in cubbies along the wall. We were seated at a wooden table close to the floor, but not low enough to make us uncomfortable. Silky red cushions placed on top of the wood allowed our feet to dangle. The servers moved about with ease and grace, taking orders and serving one outstanding dish after another. Sipping on ginger tea that was packed with flavor, we ordered a few different dishes—there was so much that we wanted to sample! For starters, the small stuffed shiitake mushrooms stacked on a piece of tofu with cinnamon almond dressing was so delicious that I had to take tiny bites—I did not want the pleasure to end. The pumpkin noodles with sautéed vegetables had a divine flavor and were cooked to perfection. The last item that we ordered came in a cast iron bowl with a bubbling, richly spiced broth, tofu, mushrooms, vegetables and bite-sized rice cakes. Served on the side was kimchi – both plain and with a red hot sauce. All of it was absolutely amazing. I could eat at Hangawi multiple times a week and never tire of their menu, or the “balance and harmony” that they effortlessly convey.
Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, and I stumbled upon Five Senses and knew immediately that we had not seen this restaurant before. Sure enough, we quickly learned that they had only been open for three days, and it was already bustling with customers. Diners sat near the windows, under the row of long wooden boards on the wall, at the main dining table, separated into separate sections by panes of glass, and in the rear of the restaurant by the kitchen, open to the room save for a curtain of birch boughs. The entire space gave off an air of calm, in hues of slate and brown. We met John Lee, the co-owner of the restaurant along with his brother, Richard. John has been in the food world for a long time, though mainly in supermarkets and fruit markets. Richard had been working on Wall Street. Together they followed their dream. “I’ve always had a passion for food, ” John explained, “And I’ve always wanted to do a Chipotle-style Korean restaurant. ” His goal is to give the everyday person a taste of the Korean experience, and thanks to his first joint venture with his brother, he can. Five Senses is different from the other Korean restaurants on the block. “Everyone else is old school, ” John explained. He assured us that he has nothing against “old school, ” but that it is not what Five Senses is about. John serves up traditional Korean food with a modern twist, using an army of young, talented chefs. “My chefs – they do everything, ” John beamed. The amount of skill in the kitchen has made it hard to choose what to put on the menu: John is using the first couple weeks - in June, 2015 - to play with his meal offerings and see what people prefer. John surprised us during our visit with a veritable feast. It started with an assortment of banchan, little plates of vegetables and other specialties that are traditionally served at the beginning of a Korean meal. The banchan vary each day, but we received dishes containing cellophane noodles, cauliflower and mushrooms, anchovies, a spicy root vegetable concoction, spinach, and, of course, kimchi. As we marveled at the intensity of flavors, John assured us, “All my food is fresh, never frozen. " We dove into the banchan with vigor as he told us about some of his other dishes, like an Ogam Oyster Gook Bap with seaweed, radish, and chive, which "no one else on the block serves, " and cod and short rib soups that he calls “Mother’s Soup” and “Father’s Soup” in honor of his parents. “My mother is a great cook, ” he said with a smile, "and My dad is a doctor. "Our feast was not yet complete: For Olivia, John brought out a light pork salad as well as fried pork served with a citrusy “secret sauce. ” John explained that he tries to use every part of the animal: “People know about pork belly, but pork neck can also be excellent. ” John sweetly placed a sizzling vegetarian masterpiece in front of me, made up of rice, radishes, bean sprouts, cucumber, mushrooms, and watercress, all cooking away on a huge slab of rock, ultimately causing it to be delightfully crispy. As we were getting ready to go, John informed us that he would like to eventually keep the restaurant open twenty-four hours. After 10pm he plans to offer special food pairings with soju, a Korean drink similar to sake. We look forward to returning to see Five Senses after hours!
How is this for an architect’s resume: The Dakota (known today as the apartment building where John Lennon was shot), the original Waldorf and Astoria hotels, (subsequently torn down to make room for the Empire State Building), the Plaza Hotel, the Willard Hotel in DC and the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. Henry Janeway Hardenbergh designed the Hotel Martinique in two phases: the first part opened in 1898, and was then completed in 1910, with 600 rooms in total. The intricate mosaic flooring remains intact, as does the winding staircase that climbs eighteen stories.
At Paris Baguette, the Manhattan Sideways team grabbed a tray and a set of tongs and indulged. We found each baked bread to be more desirable than the next, from the simple white loaf to the peanut crumb to the chocolate cream bread. The cakes are magnificent pieces of art. We were particularly drawn to the strawberry and fresh cream, and the chocolate and banana. A chain that originated in Korea, Paris Baguette now provides baked goods to almost three thousand stores. Although not everything is prepared in-house, the aroma alone makes it worth a visit, as does the show of people who come through Paris Baguette each day.
Never one to miss the opportunity to browse in a bookstore, I brought some of the Manhattan Sideways team inside with me. We had a splendid time attempting to guess what each classic was by its cover, as they were all in Korean. We went on to check out the music section, posters, games and cards. According to the person I spoke with, Koryo has been on 32nd Street for over thirty years. What a fabulous shop to spend time in, despite the language barrier.