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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
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