Korean Restaurant Guide Launch at Hanjan

My love for Korean food is well documented. Whether traditional or nouveau, I love me some kimchi, gochujang, and bibimbap. However, it isn’t as mainstream as, for example, Chinese or Thai cuisines. It just isn’t as well-known, and whereas any small city in northern New Hampshire will have at least one place to get lo mein and an almond cookie, if you live in a place without a big Korean population, you probably haven’t’ gotten a whole lot of chances to eat Korean food.

Luckily, when you visit NYC, you now have a guide to help you.

The launch of the Korean Restaurant Guide is incredibly exciting for all of us who know and love banchan. It’s a guide curated by the Korean Food Foundation, Chef Hooni Kim, and food writer Matt Robard that highlights the 40 best Korean restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. From high-end multicourse meals to fusion fries topped with cheddar cheese and bulgogi, this guide covers the best of the best in both English and Korean printing, tells you what the best dishes are, and how much you can expect to spend for your meal. Don’t want to schlep around the small guide? Just give the app a try – it should be available in March. This is exciting because now people have a guide to help them become acclimated to the world of Korean food. It’s garlicky and spicy and deeply satisfying. It’s the best, most vibrant colorful parts of other Asian cuisines fused into its own special collection of flavors and textures. If you haven’t tried Korean food, this guide may change your culinary life.

Of course, the guide isn’t the only reason I had to write this post. The luncheon to announce it was held at Hanjan, the new restaurant from Hooni Kim, who runs the incomparableDanji. This slightly larger, causal restaurant features many small plates and we were treated to a few items that chef Kim personally prepared for the meal.

Butternut squash porridge

The first realization that this would not be a traditional Korean meal. There was no garlic here, no fiery pepper paste of scallions. Only smooth, silky butternut squash soup that was as sweet and comforting as Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house. Even the rice was in the form of rice powder, used only to thicken the soup and give it a very smooth texture. This is a rich but not at all heavy or gloppy way to start the meal.

Bean Sprout, Napa cabbage, and bean sprout kimchi

Here was where the traditional flavors started to shine. The spinach kimchi is clean tasting and bright, with a slightly spicy taste of garlic. The Napa cabbage is the most traditional, spicy and salty and just a bit briny from the fermented fish that was likely used in the recipe. The bean sprouts were crunchy and slippery, nutty with sesame oil. This kimchi trio isn’t overtly flavored, it doesn’t leave you feeling like you sucked a sachet filled with the world’s stinkiest ingredients. It’s more subtle, luring you into the flavorful, intricate world of Korean food.

Grilled beef short ribs, winter lettuce, and ssamjang

Some of the best galbi I have ever had. Rich and falling apart tender, with a really pronounced beefiness that is almost funky, like an aged steak. Marinated in a sweet and salty sauce and served alongside ssamjang, bitter, pungent, and spicy with fermented beans and peppers, it is just wonderful. It’s your favorite bbq short ribs kicked up and moved far East. Wrapped in stiff winter lettuce, it was a bite that was hot, cool, crisp, and fatty all at once. I would come back to Hanjan for what they can do with meat.

That’s what she said.

Five Grain Rice

Sorry, I hated it. I like beans and I like rice and I like seeds. Put them together and they taste like mushy grass. I just can’t do it.

Korean citron sorbet

Unbelievable. A standout in a very tasty meal. Tart like lemon, sweet like orange, fresh and fruity like lime. It has a hint of bitterness like yuzu and the texture is so creamy that it might as well be ice cream. It’s sweet and refreshing – a perfect ending to a salty, spicy, beef heavy meal.

Though I haven’t tried the normal menu yet, I can already tell that I will love Hanjan. The long communal table, the inventive and flavorful food, and the prices that seem fair for the quality I will certainly be back soon to see for myself. And I will also be headed to the other tasty restaurants listed in the new Korean Restaurant Guide.

Kimchi, come to mama.

*This was a press meal. I was not required to write about it, and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Hanjan on Urbanspoon