Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to a surf shop!
Tygershark, which Doug Hwang opened on Vanderbilt Avenue at the end of 2015, seems destined to be referred to, irresistibly, as "that Korean place in the back of the surf shop." And it's not inaccurate: you can actually purchase a surfboard here by the entrance, as well as Sex Wax, beach towels, and other sweet summer gear. There's a to-go coffee counter up front as well, with pastries from Colson, which will likely be appreciated by the hordes of new people moving into the 'hood whenever they finish that residential monster right across the street.
But really, Tygershark isn't a gimmicky "hidden" spot. This is a fully-realized restaurant, with a serious and wildly talented chef, Eduardo Sandoval, manning the long, open kitchen. There's lots of seating here, at the counter and along the wall in the main dining area, plus a tall communal table and an outdoor patio in the back.
And if the objets d'art and studiously pretty decor seem a bit precious, the laid-back clubhouse atmosphere and quality music mix quickly reassure that you've made the right decision. This is an easy room to get comfortable in.
Korean food is the starting point for the Tygershark menu, but Sandoval isn't timid about pulling in ideas and flavors from all over the place. And what big, thrilling flavors they are! All six dishes I tried over two nights were big winners, starting with the Crab Fried Rice, a masterclass in how combining textures (from the pan-burnt crunchy rice to the creamy soy pickled egg) and sensations (sweet, salty, earthy, spicy as hell) can produce a wonderful whole without sacrificing the distinct taste of the individual ingredients.
Same goes for the Grilled Octopus, in which the crisp, well-done cephalopod is served with slippery rice cakes, chewy "deep-fried bacon," egg, a thick crema, and the Korean chili-based condiment gochuajang. Every bite of this dish is exciting.
Over the right side of the menu are several delicious soupy "entrees," led by the fiery Soondubu, which is packed with fat, tender clams, blackened pork bulgolgi (the kitchen is adept at burning things the exact right amount), chunks of tofu, and a generous sampling of charred enoki mushrooms. Slurp straight from the bowl or spoon over the accompanying rice. There's an intense sweet-and-spicy ramen dish here too, with thick Sun noodles serving as a base for a shellfish trio of mussels, squid, and shrimp, a scattering of shiitakes and jalapeños rounding things out.
Even the simpler-sounding things pack a complex punch, like the Pan-Fried Dumplings (burnt, of course), plump with ground beef and shrimp and served sitting in a sweet soy sauce, with chili crisp and what tasted like pickled apples on top. The tamest dish was probably the Dried Chili Chicken Congee, but that was still pretty kick-ass for a bowl of porridge.
You can walk in to Tygershark at 7:30 on a Thursday and still get seated right away, but now that word's getting out you can expect that to change, especially when fall hits and our collective craving for these hot, hearty dishes kicks in. So go now. And between this place, El Atoradero, and LOOK Plant Love House, Prospect Heights is becoming a serious contender for best restaurant neighborhood of 2016.
Tygershark is located at 581 Vanderbilt Avenue between Pacific and Dean Streets, and is open for dinner on Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 11:00 p.m., and for brunch on the weekends from 12:00 noon to 3:30. CLOSED MONDAYS. (718-576-6233; tygershark.nyc)