Pop-Up Wrap-up: Korean Fried Chicken Takeover and Jonah-fact
This week saw two pop-up collaborations go down between Woodberry and Pabu, and if the public response to these is any indication, the format isn’t going away anytime soon; both were lively and full of an energy not often seen on a normal night at a restaurant.
Tuesday we headed to Belvedere Square to check out the first event, a Fried Chicken Takeover of Shoo-Fly. When we arrived a half hour early the front of the restaurant was already packed, so we were seated downstairs in their “diner” area, perfect for viewing the kitchen action. While enjoying a kimchi whiskey sour (!) it became clear that having the event early in the week was a big deal for industry folks who typically work weekends; we may have been the only people who didn’t know each other from a local restaurant. At first we felt left out of some secret society, but ultimately came to find it endearing how close and supportive the restaurant community is in our city.
Shortly after, the food, a $29 prix fixe menu, started rolling out. First up was chef Jonah Kim’s Kimchi, a vinegary trio of Napa cabbage, baby bok choy, and radish. Spicy, crisp, and with a fermented zing, it was possibly the best we’ve had in the city (sorry Joung Kak and Nam Kang); something we wish we could have on the daily at Pabu, hint hint. The second dish was crispy Brussels sprouts with fermented chili mayo, which, while nicely cooked and crispy on the edges, were nothing atypical of other sprouts in the city – until the punch of the mayo hit, and that made the dish.
A mini-bowl of pork-based Tonkotsu Ramen followed, and while the broth seemed more miso than pork, the noodles were perfectly cooked and made all the better with the unctuous slice of pork belly that lay on top. Garlic butter rice with mushrooms was next, something that didn’t leave much of mark other than the earthy ‘shrooms. Which was fine, we wanted to save room for the fried chicken.
Served in an old-school red and white cardboard box with a spicy and sweet Asian sauce, the chicken was extra crispy, something surely attributed to the double-fry method of the Korean style, with the inside meat juicy and delicious. We were expecting wings, but instead got breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, which proved more of a challenge to eat with the sauce, but we eventually gave in to the extra messiness, which seemed appropriate for a fried chicken night. The evening ended with a sweet but frothy malt with sesame bar pieces and Japanese maltose, a nod to Shoo-Fly’s shake menu.
Two nights later found us at the Korean inspired Jonah-fact, another pop-up with Chef Kim, this time at Woodberry’s Artifact. Decidedly more intimate than the fried chicken night and Tokifact, reservations were taken, which, while taking away some of the party vibe, ultimately created a more calm and relaxing space (even with Gangnam Style playing in the background).
Nestling up next to an addictively good Spiced Nashi ($10), a bourbon based drink with asian pear shrub, allspice dram, lemon, and cinnamon, we took in the $39 prix fixe menu’s offerings. First out was the traditional small plates of house-made Korean banchan which included that still-good-as-shit kimchi, a surprisingly good raw onion with black bean paste, a bland mini kimchi pancake, bean sprouts, and a soy-braised burdock root which ended up being the first “I could eat that all night” moment.
Local fluke and Spanish mackerel sashimi with ponzu sauce followed from the almost table-side cutting board of Pabu Sushi Chef Yoji Harada, with the fluke being a nice delicate contrast to the denser mackerel with the ponzu adding just a hint of umami. A plate of homemade shumai steamed pork dumplings was laid down next with a soy and spicy Japanese karashi mustard dipping sauce, a refreshing take on the typically pre-made pork pillows seen elsewhere, but wasn’t revelatory other than the inclusion of the mustard.
As we cleaned off the shumai we were presented with a large dutch oven filled with a kimchi and pork stew that may be one of the best things we’ve tasted in a while. Bright red and spicy, yet rich and hearty, the stew included pork shoulder, pork leg, pork belly, cabbage, and kale, was dotted with crispy rice cakes that didn’t look unlike white cheddar cheese puffs, but tasted more like a spongy rice gnocchi, made all the better when used to sop up that broth. The pork belly was so melt-in-your-mouth good one of us was called out by a friend asking “are you hunting for pork belly?” It was worth the embarrassment for the little flavor bombs.
After getting an impressive lesson on unpasteurized Saki from our friendly and attentive server, the night ended with house made Sikhye, a traditional cold sweet rice drink with the addition of barley and pine nuts, a nice touch. While the night was enjoyed by everyone, we all agreed the unadvertised $39/person was a little steep for essentially sashimi, shumai, and pork stew (banchan and rice drinks come included at places like Nam Kang, albeit not as fresh and tasty), all of which were shared by four of us. So while pop-ups may be fun and casual, the punch to the wallet certainly isn’t.