Banchan, side dishes that are a fundamental part of any Korean meal, enjoy a moment as the main attraction at Atoboy, opening tomorrow on East 28th Street just off Park Avenue. Inside the railroad-style restaurant, whose walls flip between raw industrial and polished paint, husband and wife team Chef Junghyun "JP" Park and Ellia Park are turning banchan into a tasting menu of sorts, though with more flexibility in the hands of the diner. Pick three items from their list—which starts light and moves heavy as you read from top to bottom—for a tapas-type experience with a fixed price.
Vegetables dominate the first section, like tender asparagus stems in a creamy sauce, showered with crunchy bits of shallot and and spicy cod roe, and shishito peppers fried and steamed, with two types of shrimp prepared in similar styles. After that, a seafood-heavy section including mackarel swimming in a savory, spicy broth redolent with oniony flavor. Finally, meatier options including an excellent pork jowel—be prepared, fat-phobes—with toothsome barley in ssamjang and shredded romaine lettuce.
The food arrived more or less at the same time at last night's press preview, which can be overwhelming but not dissimilar to how banchan are served at Korean restaurants and homes. At $36 per person for the three courses, this reporter was well-sated, but additional dishes can be added to the meal for $12 per course. Those with heartier appetites should focus on the bottom half of the menu, where serving sizes are larger and more protein-heavy.
Regardless of selection, crocks of rice—one white, one fortified with baby corn and corn nibblets—kimchi, seasoned boiled egg and other veggies are brought out as the banchan to the banchan, if you will. The rice comes in handy for sopping up the delicious, flavorful sauces that Park employs with aplomb. Just like any other Korean restaurant, if you want more, just ask.
A tightly curated menu of beers, wines and sochu can be ordered in supplement. The Pear Sangria was surprisingly tart and clear, unlike pulpier, fruit-heavy applications, and the sochu-based Hwayo Ginger Rosso cocktail balanced the sweet-tart line with a glug of pink grapefruit mellowing out the ginger's spicy bite.
43 East 28th Street; website