Modern Korean food hardly tops the list of trendy, New York City restaurants. Although anyone who has ever asked me for a restaurant suggestion in Hell’s Kitchen knows about my love affair for Danji, a low key Michelin Star restaurant. They opened a second restaurant, Hanjan in Flatiron, which has been on my list for months now. So, I was thrilled when my friend, Amber, suggested we head there for dinner. Unlike the originally version, Hanjan accepts reservations, avoiding the endless wait times.
Hanjan’s exterior is eerily reminiscent of its predecessor, slightly hidden and dark to the outside world. It easily blends into the doorways on the street, only attracting locals who know where to find it.
The interior completely contrasts the dark outside. The bar area is warm and spacious, with a small counter top lining the adjacent wall, allowing for more people to sip on their unusual cocktails. The dimly lit restaurant creates a warm, intimate setting with two-person tables surrounding a long wooden communal one.
We were seated at one of the individual tables on the right side of the dining room at the exact time of our reservation. Menus are located in a little shelf underneath the table, broken up into three distinct sections: Modern, Traditional and Skewers. The traditional portion lists exotic dishes with names that are nearly impossible to pronounce, making the knowledgeable waiter your greatest asset to deciphering the menu. Off the bat, the waiter apologized when informing us they had run out of the Salmon Sashimi and Pork Fat ‘Ddukbokki.’ We were both a little disappointed since those two dishes had immediately caught our eye, but what could you really do.
I’m on a spicy food and drink kick right now, finally discovering the benefits of enjoying stuff with a little kick. The Asian Firecracker on the cocktail list seemed like the ultimate spiced drink, with chili infused tequila, soda, bitters and chili salt lining the rim.
The heat from the chili and tequila was relatively mild, leaving a lingering tingling sensation on the tongue after each sip. The flavor was extremely reminiscent of a margarita, with a little bit of an Asian twist. It a delicious drink to enjoy slowly.
The waiter recommended ordering about 5-6 dishes for the two of us to share. Dishes arrive one by one, creating a staggered dining experience. They are in absolutely no rush to quickly send you out the door, which always makes a meal more enjoyable.
We first ordered the Scallion Pancake with Local Squid, in addition to four other dishes from all parts of the menu.
Far different from your local Asian restaurant, big pieces of scallions were coated in a light pancake batter giving a crispy, sweet texture. The flavor of the squid was extremely mellow, only coming out when you discovered a few tiny pieces. However, the missing squid hardly put a damper on this delicious version of a scallion pancake. It’s a must order.
Next, the Fresh Killed Chicken Wings arrived. And no, we checked, they did not just slaughter a chicken in the kitchen. Instead these are their fresh version of soy-marinated grilled chicken wings served with pickled melon and peppers.
These sticky sweet wings were expertly prepared. The soy-sake marinade and tangy sauce kept the chicken moist. By grilling the wings, there is a subtle smoky flavor infused throughout the meat. Each wing is extremely tender, following off the bone with one little bite.
We changed gears for our third dish, ordering the homemade fishcake served in a daikon broth. Two bowls are served with the soup, making it easy to share.
Don’t even bother trying to be polite and cutting the fishcake, pick it up with your chopstick and bite in. It’s slightly salty, full of the fish flavor without being over whelming. It’s a delicate way to prepare the fish, which is an ideal contrast to the light daikon broth. If I’m ever sick, please bring me a bowl of this soup and I’ll be one happy camper.
After much debate over which skewer to order, the spicy pork belly came out on top. It was served in a similar style to a lettuce wrap, with the two spiced skewers next to dark pieces of lettuce, garlic paste, and thinly sliced scallions.
The buttery pork belly was coated in a spicy, kimchi sauce. If you aren’t a big fan of spice, these definitely aren’t for you. The lettuce wrap tends to mellow the spice a bit, but it still packs a powerful punch. The addition of the garlic paste adds another different layer of bitterness, making the wrap even more pungent. It’s a good dish, but definitely not as memorable as the other dishes.
Our final dish of the day ended up being one of our favorites. The fried rice with radish kimchi, brisket and a fried egg arrives in an iron skillet, sizzling and filled your lungs with the sweet smell.
This dish stole the show elevating a dish I usually skip over into another dimension. The runny yolk acts as a sauce coating the pieces of rice, adding even more richness to the decadent dish. The fatty brisket was surprisingly fabulous and plentiful. The radish kimchi gave a little bit of balanced spice, which everyone can enjoy. The spice is so necessary to give a little relief from the heaviness of the dish. (Fortunately for me, there were leftovers which were perfect for lunch the next day).
Hanjan creates an intimate atmosphere serving delightful Korean comfort food. The unique flavors and utilization of spice makes even the simplest of dishes unlike anything else. Probably the most exciting part about Hanjan is the ability of the owner’s to create a completely different menu from Danji. Both restaurants expose foodies to playfulness and serious depth of Korean dishes. The entire experience is wonderful, from the friendly, knowledgeable staff to the intimate environment that makes you want to stay for hours. It’s the kind of place you’ll easily want to come back to, for both food and experience.
36 West 26th Street – New York, NY
Location: Flatiron, NY
Perfect For: Casual Meal, Impressing Foodies, Authentic Dining
Reservations: Accepted via SeatMe
Favorite Dishes: Fried Rice, Scallion Pancake, Grilled Wings