At a friend’s urging, Lau tried the pig feet at Pan in Koreatown. It’s good to have smart friends. Pan’s maewoon jokbal, as it’s known in Korean, is done to a turn—tender and pleasingly gelatinous, cooked in spicy, semisweet sauce and served under a scattering of sesame and scallions.
It’s one of several drink-friendly dishes that this second-floor hideaway does as well as any place in Manhattan, Lau says. Nakji bokeum (stir-fried octopus) is also cooked just right in a sauce that’s spicy and delicious without the cloying sweetness that mars most versions around K-town. It’s a perfect match with rice and a cold beer. A soup of clams, fish cakes, seaweed, and dried bean curd boasts deeply flavorful broth and a peppery kick. The haemul pajeon (seafood-scallion pancake) is tasty and crisp, avoiding the common pitfalls of greasiness and gooeyness. Banchan, the complimentary small dishes, are highlighted by spicy green peppers in garlicky chile sauce and a simple, satisfying steamed egg custard with scallions.
Pan is a pojang macha: a casual watering hole of a type that’s better represented in the Korean quarters of Queens than in Manhattan. What Lau likes about it—besides its food, drink, and straight-out-of-Seoul vibe—is its focused menu. Too many of Manhattan’s Korean restaurants “make lots of dishes, but make none of them well,” he laments. Pan, joining a handful of specialists like BCD Tofu House and noodle shop Arirang, sounds like a welcome exception.
319 Fifth Avenue (entrance on E. 32nd Street), Manhattan