It's premature to judge a restaurant that's just a couple of weeks old, but I'm marking some thoughts for others to consider for Bann, a new Korean-ish restaurant that has opened on W 50th Street.
Firstly, if you're looking for K-town or Northern Blvd. vittles here, this is not the place. This is "nouveau Korean", opened by the same lady who brought Woo Lae Oak to SoHo. With "nouveau" you can translate "expensive", and this is somewhat intolerablly so.
A few appetizers with creative twists came with expensive ingredients that helped boost prices to the upper teens like foie gras, dungeness crab, sea scallops, fresh oysters, etc. The dungeness crab cigar rolls seemed tasty especially with the special mayo, but the oyster fritters had no crisp as they were wrapped in a shrimp fondue first and then fried. Oysters were just on the too-cooked side. And has anyone ever had a faint bitter taste with foie gras? I've had a fair share of foie gras around the world, and have never before encountered that. In my book, if you can't do FG right, just don't.
The BBQ items offer more inventive alternatives than traditional rib-eye, chicken, beef short ribs, etc., with ostrich medallions and veal sweetbreads. Seasonings for the sweetbreads, rib-eye and short ribs were tasty, though the portions are paltry for the prices -- mid to upper 20s. I did think the short ribs were a tad too fatty, and overall, the items were a bit strongly sugared. More typically, that price buys you portions for two instead of one, but again, this is "nouveau"... But at least you get to handle your own grill as each table features a small one set into the marble tables.
You must also order separately -- and pay for -- the accompaniments for the BBQ like romaine lettuce for the wraps, and cloves of garlic for roasting. You do get gratis three small dishes of kimchee (not very spicy), spinach and pickled daikon, and a crock of rice.
Desserts are too sweet for my taste; I could hardly finish. Ginger creme brulee is nice at first, but must be eaten with the buttery pastry that comes with it to balance the sugariness. Almond tofu ice cream (a great idea) was on the money. The Asian pear crumble is also oversweetened, and only the dried sheet of pineapple could reduce it.
The space is huge and nicely decorated with Korean scrolls at the windows (lowered would be ideal to shield the drab view of 50th street), and Asian accents from the walls to the lights to the leather scrolls that encase the menus. Some tables of four are set rather close to each other, so two separate parties of four feel too chummy to each other. But a table of eight would might feel just fine.
Each table has a couple of bottles of dipping oil branded with the restaurant's name, though it's unclear on what you would use it, since there is no starchy item given to make use of the oil.
The entrance is a bit odd. For such a large space the doorway is cut between a pillar and a wall. You almost expect something more grand as you walk past the windows to get to the doorway.
In all, the meal was nice enough, but the cost is just a tad too high. Plates feel roughly $5 more per than they should be for the quality of the food. And we're talking Hell's Kitchen, so I'm curious to see if they can maintain this price point. Roughly $120 spent here (two appetizers, two entries, two drinks, two desserts) versus at some place like WD-50 for the same amount of food highlights the tremendous disparity in quality for the price.
I might go back in a while, to see how things might have evened out, maybe give a shot at the ostrich medallions, as well as the non-grill items. I wish the restaurant luck, as it has a ways to go in proving its worth in this neighborhood.
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