Pete Wells has strong feelings about banchan, those small dishes that arrive at the beginning of a Korean meal. So when the Times critic heard that banchan was the focus of the newly opened Atoboy, he explains in his latest review that he was more than a little suspect. “What could this be but another ploy to charge us for something that used to come with the cost of the meal?” Wells quips.
Immediately, Wells admits he was wrong about Atoboy: “This is no scam. Junghyun Park, the chef, uses banchan as a starting point, then goes on to build smart, surprising dishes around it.” Here is Wells on some of his favorite smart dishes:
Like Jungsik, Atoboy favors the subtler end of the Korean flavor spectrum, but it avoids fussing and tweezing. Mr. Park’s novel and lovely sea bass tartare, under a shimmering pale-green layer of chopped kiwi, mint and fermented spring garlic, could easily slide onto the menu at Jungsik if he decked out the plate with some foofaraw. (I’m glad he doesn’t.)
Mr. Park’s take on yuk hwe is memorable, the beef tartare cut into long skinny threads that are tossed with soy sauce, dotted with nettle cream and topped with what seem to be julienne potato chips. Braised mackerel, usually cooked in soy sauce, is simmered in a complex green-chile broth. Little drums of octopus leg, a dot of parsley oil in the center of each one, are ringed around a kind of hash of kimchi and chorizo — two things that were meant to be together, though I never would have guessed.
His meals at Atoboy end on a high note, with a bevy of desserts that are “clarifying,” like a ginger panna cotta with pink grapefruit that Wells notes is “just as refreshing as it sounds.” Ever the wine enthusiast, Wells comments that the list is worth a visit, too. “Everything I’ve tried has cohabited amicably with Mr. Park’s food.” Two stars.