Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to the Golden Diner, where we're having pancakes for dinner.
At the tail end of last winter chef Samuel Yoo opened Golden Diner, a fun, familiar-feeling place serving a menu of breakfast and lunch classics prepared with an Asian inflection. It was good, exciting stuff—Yoo, who previously worked at Momofuku Ko and Torrisi, knows what he's doing in the kitchen—but some of us have a hard time getting to Madison Street under the Manhattan Bridge before 3 p.m. each day to enjoy it on a regular basis.
Finally though, some six months later, Con Ed finally hooked Yoo up with gas, and last Thursday Golden Diner debuted its dinner menu with about a dozen new dishes and a hopping, nighttime energy now infusing the place. In case you haven't been, Golden Diner looks like a diner, with fixed, padded stools before a wide counter facing the kitchen, and seating for about 18 at a row of Formica tables along the front windows.
In addition to all of the expected diner signifiers—bottles of ketchup, glass salt and pepper shakers, and sugar for coffee sit at every table—there's some funky framed art on the walls, and the soundtrack is typically hip hop, played loud enough to get even solo diners bopping in their seats. There's a lot of attentive and friendly people working here, especially for such a small space, and you'll never have to wait more than a few seconds for anything. It's cozy and comfortable and, like a lot of places down here, it exudes a kind of cool-kid vibe without trying hardly at all.
Sam Yoo is an inventive, talented chef who knows how to bring big flavors to simple-seeming dishes without overwhelming the core ingredients with too many bells and whistles. On three consecutive dinners at Golden Diner over the weekend I managed to eat almost all of Yoo's new creations, and left very happy, and very full, every time. The Soup du Jour has been Wontonini en Brodo, and I would have ordered it all three times if I hadn't needed to try everything. The baby wontons are perfectly cooked and funky as hell, the shaved mushrooms add further interest, and the intense meat broth is so good I lifted the bowl when the dumplings were gone and awkwardly made sure I got every last drop.
Black Bean Vongole is currently the "noodles" special, and you should definitely get this too. I loved the wide, super-thin Taiwanese wheat noodles and the vivid fermented black bean sauce swimming with tiny, tender clams. Both of the starters I tried were excellent as well: a basket of eight Korean Fried Chicken Wings, sticky with an almost-sweet, definitely-garlicky kochujang glaze, the accompanying cubes of pickled daikon a thoughtful complement; and the Salt and Pepper Calamari, the squid fried-up crisp and light in tempura batter with lots of mild and spicy peppers included to break up the action. The potent nam jim dipping sauce that comes with it is first-rate, too.
The Golden Cheeseburger is the only "old" item I ate, because how can you not get a burger at a diner? This makes for a decent meal, the thick patty juicy, the toppings fresh and plentiful, and the salty fries are expertly-cooked. The better choice in this section, however, and really one of the best sandwiches I've had all year, is Sam's Tuna Melt, served on griddled rye with deft touches like salt and vinegar chips on top, along with the exact right amount of pickles and onions hidden in the tuna salad. It doesn't look like much, but what tuna salad ever has?
Golden Diner serves breakfast all night, and if you make the right call, you'll definitely get an order of Honey Butter Pancakes for the table. These are crisp on the edges, fluffy within, and arrive nearly floating in honey maple butter. And for dessert proper, don't miss the Fall Apples and Cream Patbingsoo, a mountain of shaved ice flavored with sweetened adzuki beans and vanilla milk, filled with chewy fruit, then topped Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.
Golden Diner's new dinner service opens up so many more opportunities to eat here, and after wolfing down winner after winner all weekend long, I plan on seizing them as often as possible. Great food, nice people, chill setting.
Golden Diner is located at 123 Madison Street, between Market Street and Mechanics Alley, and is open Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Dinner starts at 5 p.m. Closed Monday. (goldendinerny.com)