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.
“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. ”
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.
In the frenetic center of Korea Town on 32nd, Grace Street is a quiet haven. Couches line one wall, and there are plenty of tables for folks who want a more upright experience. Smoky charcoal sketches and colorful photos enliven the walls. Wi-Fi is not in the usual coffee house mix, as people come to Grace Street to relax and chat. But enough about the space – what is style without content? The coffee is nice, and my Americano treated me exquisitely. But the homerun is the Ho-dduk, a traditional Korean filled pancake—reminiscent of a donut—that is a perfect companion to a cup of coffee.
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.
Originally the Aberdeen Hotel when it was built in 1902, this grand Beaux-arts edifice continues to stand out as it sits in the middle of Korea Town. Perhaps its best claim to fame was that, back in the 1920s, it allowed women to book a room without a gentleman on their arm. The Hotel at Fifth Avenue, formerly known as La Quinta, also boasts its own rooftop bar, Vu.
A young, hip crowd filled the house on a Wednesday at 4pm, and not just for the incredible baked goods. There are numerous bakeries sprinkled throughout Korea Town, but I, like many others, was particularly drawn to Tous Les Jours for its vast seating area and the music videos playing on a huge screen.
Located upstairs, away from the frenzied goings-on of Korean Town, an unexpected tranquil oasis awaits in the form of a 24-hour spa. For women only during the daytime hours, one can be pampered in their incredible facilities including a sauna, soaking ponds and a steam room. There are a variety of other treatment areas where intense massages and body scrubs are offered. In the evening hours, Juvenex turns itself into a couples only spa, offering champagne with their packages from five in the evening until eight the next morning.
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!