PAN – Finally a Good Pojangmacha Restaurant in Koreatown
**For full post and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2011/11/pan-%...
It is nice to have a Koreatown in Manhattan; unfortunately, in my opinion, most of the restaurants do Korean food a disservice as they have huge menus and make lots of dishes, but make none of them well. Luckily, there are exceptions and overtime Korean food in Manhattan has been getting better with new restaurants such as Arirang and PAN.
PAN is a new restaurant that specializes in “pojangmacha” style food, which is a street stall type of restaurant that you eat and drink at in Korea. A lot of the food served a pojangmacha is comfort food that goes well with drinking. When I visited Korea I ate at a lot of pojangmacha places and I really enjoyed this style of food.
PAN is hidden on the 2nd floor of a building on 32nd Street between 5th and Madison in between Kyochon and Ishihana. The dimly lit space is windowless with a very industrial feel having cinderblock type walls, and concrete floors. The first thing I said when I sat down was “this place really looks like some place in Seoul” and everyone agreed with me. The clientele was almost 100% Korean, but the staff does speak English and they are quite friendly.
Here’s what we got:
- Kimchi: This was one of the panchan (complimentary small dishes) served. The kimchi was fine, it wasn’t overripe and was probably better than most places in ktown, but I’ve become a kimchi snob as my girlfriend’s mom makes the best kimchi ever, so I thought it was decent but nothing to write home about. 7/10
- Spicy Peppers: This was another panchan they gave us. This was spicy green peppers in a chili sauce that had quite a bit of garlic in it. I really liked the sauce and the taste of the spicy green peppers went very well with the garlicky chili sauce. I thought these were quite good especially with some rice. 8/10
- Soup: This was a complimentary soup. I believe it was a fish stock soup. It had a nice flavor and wasn’t too salty. I thought it was pretty good. 7.75/10
- Steamed Egg Custard: This was another complimentary dish that is a simple dish made of egg steamed with water and a little bit of sugar and scallions. While it is very simple, I always like this dish a lot. 8/10
- Fried Squid: This was fried tempura style squid tentacles. Normally, I don’t like this dish because it’s not freshly fried, so the batter isn’t crispy and it’s usually over-battered as well. However, here it was freshly fried and not over-battered. The batter was slightly sweet as I believe they used a sweet potato batter. It was served with a very light soy sauce that complimented it well. 8/10
- Haemul Pajeon (Seafood Pancake): This was a typical Korean pancake with seafood and lots of green onions. The problem with this dish is that if you cook it wrong it gets gooey and oily, but they did a good job as it wasn’t gooey at all and had a nice crispy texture on the outside. It’s served with a soy sauce that has chili and scallions that compliments the pancake well. Overall, this was a pretty decent version. 8/10
- Nakji Bokeum (Spicy Octopus): This is octopus stir fried in slightly sweet spicy sauce with spicy green chilis and onions. This is a dish that I love with a cold beer and some rice. The sauce was quite good here, it was spicy and flavorful without being overly sweet which tends to be the downfall of most places I get this at in Ktown. The octopus was cooked well and wasn’t rubbery and I liked the green chilis that they use. Overall, I enjoyed this dish. 8/10
- Maewoon Jokbal (Spicy Pig Feet): I’m a big fan of pig feet as I like fatty meats and pig feet sort of remind me of fatty meat as they are gelatinous in texture. A friend of mine highly recommended I try these as he said they are the star of the show. I got the spicy version as opposed to the regular steamed version. They chop the pig feet into bite sized pieces and cook them in a semi-sweet spicy sauce and garnish them with chopped scallions and sesame seeds. The pig feet were cooked really nicely and were very tender. The spicy sauce tasted great with pig feet and combined with some rice it all came together really well. 8.25/10
- Bo Ssam (Steamed Pork Wraps): Bo ssam has gotten kind of famous because of David Chang at Momofuku who serves his own version at Momofuku Ssam Bar. The dish is a steamed pork dish served with cabbage wrappers and condiments such as kimchi, oysters, garlic and a fermented shrimp sauce. I decided to order it here against my better judgment as I find restaurants that don’t specialize in this dish don’t make it well. The pork was fine, it was a bit leaner than I prefer, but it tasted decent. The cabbage wrappers were fresh and the daikon kimchi was pretty decent, but the oysters were too fishy tasting and I didn’t think the dish had enough flavor overall. I don’t think I’d order this again. 6.75/10
- Clam Soup: This was a clam soup with clams, fish cakes, dried tofu, scallions and bbq’d seaweed. The soup broth was excellent; it wasn’t overly salty, had a good deep clam flavor and also a bit of a peppery flavor. Everyone was really surprised as how good this was. 8.5/10
Overall, I enjoyed the food and atmosphere at PAN. I’d definitely recommend trying it out for some good food and a fun place to have drinks with friends.
319 5th Ave, New York, NY 10016
These certainly aren't Pojangmacha prices - the cheapest item on the menu was 8 or 9 bucks. Then again, I haven't been to Seoul since '05, so who knows. But then I'm just being a wise-ass anyway; PAN isn't a family-style dining sort of joint; it's best for groups of young revelers, making merry, ordering drinks and multiple plates of food.
I also associate Pojangmacha mostly with various items on a stick - varying from meats to strange-looking corn dogs with french fries on them - and tend to associate them with tarpolin-covered make-shift street food shacks where people huddle on stools for warmth. We really need one of those things on the sidewalks of 32nd Street or Northern Boulevard. For now, though, PAN is indeed progress. The important thing, as Lau suggests, is that the food is good, some of it very good.
Corn-flake fried chicken - the batter is the thing. it's slightly sweet and the corn flakes give it a crunch. It's also served with a sweet and tart sauce.
Mussel soup - this was a more minimal version of what Lau described above as "clam soup." It was just baby clams, a ton of them actually, in a very nice, long simmering and soothing broth.
"Small" octopus - as it is listed on the menu. The octopus is mostly very small but pleasantly chewy pieces mixed with green peppers in a very good hot and sweet sauce. To be honest, for the price, which was about 17 bucks, we wish there could have been more actual octopus, but this was still very good.
Pork belly with bean sprouts - this was excellent, the killer dish of the evening and the one that will lure me back here again. The pork was just porky and fatty enough in flavor, tender in the middle, crisp on the edges, slightly greasy in the best sense of the word. A mouthful with some sprouts and the accompanying spicy red sauce is a great taste and texture sensation.
We washed it all down with a bottle of chilled rice wine - you can't come to a place like this without embibing.
This place really made my wife and I long for Seoul. We love the street food scene there - the Pojangmacha tents are a unique experience in the street food universe.
Thanks, Lau, for the heads-up on this place. As it's on the second floor, I would have walked past a half million times before knowing it was there.
319 5th Ave, New York, NY 10016
i thoroughly enjoy your reviews. very detailed and well written (probably best narratives that ive seen on chowhound), but could you explain your rating system? what does a 7.6 or a 6.75 mean? how is one dish 0.75 points above or below another dish? it seems very arbitrary to me.
ssl5b - thanks! well i mean to a certain degree a ratings system for food is somewhat arbitrary no matter what as taste is a completely intangible thing, so its not like there is some formula i can plug it into. That said i came up with a numerical rating system to give people an idea of how i thought it stacked up as opposed to just saying "it's good" or "its mediocre" b/c this way you'll know exactly which dishes i really liked or didn't like. i actually used to do it on a scale of 1-5, but some of my friends thought it was too hard to differentiate what i really liked, so i moved to scale of 10
However, in general,
- 6 or below: bad
- 6-7 or below: mediocre to decent, but really nothing special
- 7-8: good
- 8-9: very good
- 9-10: unbelievable drop what you're doing, doesnt matter how much it costs go there
Thanks for the review Lau. We will head over and try it. We are always looking for new spots in K-town. We had a good meal at Madangsui last week but would like additional options as go to spots. We often judge a K spot by their seafood pancake. A bad one ruins the entire meal ......
35 W 35th St, New York, NY 10001