Hanjan Skewers Hearts for Valentine’s Day: Ryan Sutton
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, when many New York restaurants fleece customers with overpriced special menus and exorbitant cancellation fees.
Fortunately, there are exceptions like Hanjan in the Flatiron district. No prix fixe menu or heart-shaped desserts, just a la carte offerings and bloody chicken hearts.
How do the organs taste?
Imagine the silkiness of filet mignon, the beefiness of a skirt steak and the gentle tang of good liver. They’re skewered, like Cupid’s arrows.
Hanjan, apacked tavern that could easily charge more, is owned by Hooni Kim, one of just two chefs in Manhattan running a Michelin-starred Korean spot.
Kim earned that star at Danji, his debut effort on 52nd Street that’s SRO by early evening.
Kim’s sophomore effort is a love letter to Korean drinking fare. And drinking. Hanjan is just as good as its flagship, even without Danji’s signature steak tartare.
You will see adults sitting at the bar, drinking what appears to be milk. The beverage is makgeolli ($9), a fermented mix of rice, wheat and water. It’s vaguely coarse and slightly sweet, like Mexican horchata but with as much alcohol as beer.
So approach with caution. This is what you drink with something salty or bitter. Scallion pancake ($12) is the right call. It’s less a cake than a free-form serving of fragrant onions loosely bound by batter that’s earthy and crunchy.
Use the rice beer to take the edge off an incendiary belt fish ($18). Gently pry a knob of flesh from the very bony skeleton, dip in the braising liquid and quell the capsicum-induced pain with more makgeolli.
Hanjan is about spicy, salty, fishy, flavors, all in modestly-sized portions that cost $22 or less. And if things all start tasting familiar, that’s because many dishes are an efficient delivery system for gochugaru, Korean red chili flakes that could melt earwax.
That’s what inflames the belt fish (hold), as well as a saute of squid (buy), and a small mound of glutinous rice cakes and pork fat (strong buy). You sweat it all out at Hanjan’s long bar or communal table. Sure, there are private tables, but really, this is a tavern, so don’t be shy.
The table affords good spying. “We’ll have what they’re having,” says a burly man, pointing at my cod roe stew, one of three large-format dishes. The hot, musky eggs of the flat fish look like tripe and taste like the ocean.
The second big dish is ramen ($16). It differs from similar preparations elsewhere in that it’s only available after 10 p.m. and it’s incendiary. Firm noodles soak up the fiery (gochugaru-spiked) broth with aplomb.
The third big dish is brisket and radish kimchi fried rice. While the grains aren’t as mushy as the paella I once sampled at Danji, the muted, mediocre flavors don’t pop as they do elsewhere on Hanjan’s menu. Rice isn’t his strong suit.
Meat on a stick is. This becomes clear once you start eating the $6 chicken thighs. The flavor is clean and juicy.
Gizzards boast a welcome snap, with a soft clove of garlic working to tame the game.
Barbecue galbi skewers ($10), sweet blocks of short rib, taste of fat, char and beef. Smear the meat with spicy ssamjang paste and wrap with lettuce.
Time to come down from that glutamate high. The sole tofu preparation comes with a side of blubbery pork belly, which you can toss in favor of the fluffy, meringue-like soy protein. Trotters ($20) are equal parts pork and soft cartilage.
Thirsty? By now, you’ve moved onto something stronger, perhaps a bottle of sochu ($18), with the sting of vodka and half the proof.
Suddenly, half a mackerel appears. Some silky bites are packed with clean oils. Others are firm and fleshy. All are perfect. So remember this affordable bliss if you haven’t already mortgaged yourself for a V-day tasting.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: All dishes $22 or under.
Sound Level: Never too loud, about 70-75 decibels.
Date Place: Yes.
Special Feature: Silky, sexy salmon sashimi salad.
Inside Tip: Only ice cream and sorbet for dessert. Skip it.
Back on My Own Dime: Especially for the pork fat rice cakes.
Hanjan is at 36 West 26th Street. Information: +1-212-206-7226 or http://www.hanjan26.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: You’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Tumblr at www.thepricehike.com or www.thebaddeal.com)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Patrick Cole on music.