Atoboy

Courtesy of Atoboy

New York Times’ Pete Wells Loves Banchan

The typically free dishes at a Korean restaurant are the star of the show at Atoboy
Atoboy

Courtesy of Atoboy

Parsimonious Pete provisionally proposes paying price, purchasing previously provided provender.

There’s a cocktail bar on the Lower East Side called Attaboy. This review is not about that spot. Instead, we have a review about Atoboy, a Korean restaurant that’s set apart from the hustle and bustle of Koreatown — and one that charges for its banchan, the typically free dishes that come before most meals.

It was my strong feelings about banchan that made me suspicious when I first heard that a new restaurant called Atoboy had made them the foundation of its menu. What could this be but another ploy to charge us for something that used to come with the cost of the meal? We’ve lost the battle over bread. I was ready to draw a line in the sand over banchan.

The most shocking part of this two-star review is Wells admitting having been wrong about these upsells. In the hands of trained-on-the-job chef Junghyun Park — who previously launched the Manhattan location of the more high-end Jungsik — the charges for the dishes were worth it. Wells also finds a strong wine list that draws from some well-known German vinters.

Atoboy is also a deliberate step away from the controlled chaos of the Korean restaurants a few blocks north on 32nd Street. … It looks like a downtown wine bar, and in fact wine is one of the chief attractions. The list is brief but manages to take you to places you wouldn’t expect to visit in a Korean restaurant.

The small dishes are uniformly perfectly executed but perhaps better for savoring individually rather than sharing. The three-course meal (drawing from each of the three menu divisions) offers a sampling of the menu. Order a couple rounds and the table will be more than satisfied.

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The servers insist that everything is meant for sharing. Heard that one before? But some dishes, like the delicate egg custard in a smoky dashi with morels and soybeans, were worse for wear and tear after they were doled out to individual plates. It’s almost impossible to get worked up about any of this, though, because the $36 menu is such a fair deal, and because so many of the dishes work so well and do things you didn’t know Korean food could do.