I had a terrific meal at Han Shin Pocha, one of the many Korean places around the Murray Hill LIRR station. Last time I was around there, I peered in Han Shin Pocha, and noticed that it has the feel of a typical izakaya that you find all over Japan. Kind of worn, but very warm and comfortable. Everything about it looked good, though it might be a bit intimadating for non-Koreans. As our party walked in to a chorus of welcomes, the first I noticed was a table grilling all kinds of shellfish. Looked promising. When we asked for a menu with some english, they seemed to have a hard time finding it and once they found it, they had to dust it off. Another good sign. While we struggled to find items that we thought would be the specialties of the house, our waiter came by and casually spoke to our group in Japanese (our party was all Japanese). After that, we were all put at ease, and we simply put ourselves in his hands and asked what were the specialties of the house.
The main specialty are grilled clams. All the tables are equipped with grill inserts for charcoal grilling. There's a small range of offerings and we chose the assorted clam grill, which included a ton of regular clams, razor clams, chopped scallops in the shell (with some sauce), turban shells, and an udon noodle dish with squid, crab (I think), and another chopped clam/oyster/enoki mushroom thingie. This was all bound together with this strangely good orange sauce that you dipped or drizzled on the shellfish. I couldn't figure out what flavors were mingling in there, but there was definitely garlic and maybe a bit of vinegar. The clams are best when eaten as they just open up and are just warmed up with their juices. A little of that orange sauce, and it's all good. The turban shells (basically large sea snails) were a little different than the sazae I've had in Japan, being slightly smaller, and slightly funkier, but still a good version (it's not something you find in NYC). The cut up scallops and the other cut up clam mixture with enoki mushrooms were also quite good, though I couldn't figure out what else was in there. The udon noodles are what you save for last. By the time you're done with the clams, the udon broth is boiling hot and the noodles are soft. Best of all was the soup, with bits of squid and crab. I now realize that we lost a lot of the juice from the clams as we were fiddling with the clams. I think it might be a better idea just to drain them into the soup.
Clam Grill: http://static.flickr.com/99/303170869...
Another specialty that our waiter offered was a sauteed dish with baby octopus and pork belly in a spicy red sauce. Some at our table thought this was a little too spicy, so I got to eat more than my fair share of it, and I couldn't stop eating it. This dish is accompanied with sesame leaf (kind of like shiso, but with a deeper fennel-like undertone), and slices of chili and raw garlic. I really enjoyed this dish (so much so, I complete forgot to take a photo).
As we were finishing up with our grilled clams, our friendly waiter came by and threw two small flat oval-shaped items on the grill. It was a dried fish/squid jerky sheet, that is a familiar accompaniment for drinking. The grilling releases some of the oils and makes it more malleable. The sheet is cut into strips with scissors and eaten dipped in hot sauce and/or mayonnaise. I'm not sure if these came with the order of clams, or if it just came on the house, but it was a good foil for all the drinks around the table.
We continued to ask our waiter for what he would recommend and he suggested a dried cuttlefish with peanuts to enjoy with the soju that was going around. This was a little tough, and it's something that you find all over Japan, so it was no revelation, but more like comfort food.
Dried cuttlefish: http://static.flickr.com/110/30169903...
Another dish that was recommened was the fried dumplings. When our waiter was describing it, I had envisioned mandoo, and figured I've had those before, and was willing to pass on these, but I'm glad I was vetoed. These were more like filled crepes. Pan fried crispy, with lots of chive, garlic, pork, and clear noodles. Another hit.
Fried dumplings: http://static.flickr.com/104/30169907...
Just when we were wondering what else we wanted, our waiter came back with a plate of pajun. It came on the house. What a pleasant surprise. Just like the one I had at Ham Ji Bak just down the street, these were nice and crispy, and fairly light. A very good rendition of pajun.
One in our group was still a little hungry and wanted to know what the items were that weren't translated on the menu with english, that ranged in the $5-$8 range. These turned out to be the noodle dishes. I think the noodles were of the instant noodle variety, so we were a bit befuddled, but the broth made up for any misgivings. I only had space for a small taste, and was satisfied.
Since Han Shin Pocha is really a drinking establishment, I should mention something about the drinks. After a round of OB beer, the table moved on to soju. We tried a Jinro brand soju called Chamjinisulro that we haven't tried. We offered glasses of soju to our waiter to toast, who gladly took our offer. Later on, we noticed the next table drinking a wine, which turns out to be a Korean raspberry wine. I'm not sure what kind of alcohol is involved here, but it's a really sweet slightly thick drink. It made for an interesting dessert wine.
Soju and Korean Raspberry wine: http://static.flickr.com/121/30169909...
We probably have our waiter to thank for our successul outing, having steered us to some good and fantastic items. We even earned a space on the wall of polaroids.
Han Shin Pocha
40-03 149th Place