Small plates and tapas are becoming more and more popular within New York, likely due to the fact that it’s a format of eating that caters well to large groups who are also looking to get together for drinks. Or, if you’re like me and my friends, the chance to just try everything on the menu. Atoboy came up on my radar as a recent opening in New York, and what makes it unique is not only it’s small plate offerings but it’s exclusive focus on actually my favorite part of Korean cuisine: banchan, the side dishes.
I’m a wimp when it comes to spicy food; so there are unfortunately lots of Korean dishes that I physically have trouble eating unless I never want to taste again. But banchan have always been the one saving grace for me (that and japchae). I’ve actually been to restaurants with friends in which I have happily only ordered rice and survived on only banchan.
Atoboy provides a pre fixe dinner menu in which you get three dishes and rice for $36 dollars. It’s a bit on the pricier side, but the three courses with rice are much more filling than you think, especially if you’re tempted/need the free refills of rice. Plus, tack on two or three more people and the amount of food adds up. It’s necessary to note that their lunch menu has slightly different offerings.
My friends and I planned our choices so that no one would be ordering the same thing – we’re big proponents of utilitarianism when it comes to food. You order in courses, but the food ends up coming out continuously so you end up with a table full of everything to choose from however you prefer.
For the first course, we went with the eggplant with dungeness crab, tomato, and lemon. The texture of this was a little off-putting (think “mush”) but the flavor with bright and fresh. Better eaten by itself than with rice.
French beans with smoked eel, grapes, and black pepper. Too acidic for our tastes and the eel didn’t come through at all. This might have been the only real “miss” of the night.
Tofu with soybeans, king oyster mushrooms, and mustard. This felt more typical Korean banchan and pairs well with many of the other items on the menu.
Littleneck clams with avocado, rice cracker, and gochugaru. If all those oyster happy hours had this, we’d be very happy indeed. Salty, creamy, crunchy, and spicy – this dish hit all those great flavor profiles you would look to in a single bite.
Moving onto the second course, we had zucchini with seaweed, ginger, and macadamia. The zucchini was fried but not extremely crisp – not very memorable.
Corn with taleggio, bacon, and doenjang. Indulgent, creamy, and a big hit. If we had a spoon we’d likely eat this one way too fast.
Sunchoke with oyster mushrooms, black truffle, and orange. This was by far my favorite dish of the night; so much that when I saw it on the menu I planned my other courses around it. Everyone raves about the fried chicken or the corn, but this dish triumphed over all for me. You’re hit with a punch of earthiness and umami from the sunchoke, mushrooms, and truffle, but the orange subtlely keeps you grounded.
Squid with pork, shrimp, and salsa verde. The squid is densely stuffed with the pork and shrimp, making this a protein on protein dish. The salsa verde was extremely mild, which was perfect for me.
Then for the last, more substantial course, we had the octopus with kimchi, chorizo, and parsley. Atoboy seems to do pretty well with dishes that play off spice, salt, and fat, and this is no exception. Unfortunately too spicy for me, though.
Chicken with spicy peanut butter and garlic. This sauce reminded me of the curry sauce you get with the fried fish balls at stalls in Hong Kong. You can never go too wrong with fried chicken, and this one delivered with its strong flavors.
Pork jowl with barley, ssamjang, and romaine. I didn’t get a picture of this, but it was extremely tender, and the skin was still crispy. I preferred this over the NY strip but there were some who disagreed.
NY strip with arugula, poblano, and wild sesame oil. Sometimes, you just need a piece of red meat with your meal, and this is it. I particularly thought this went well with the tofu and corn but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
Overall, Atoboy excels in that it presents a variety of dishes which play off a diverse yet complementary range of textures and flavors. Such care and thought, though, is presented in a cohesive and almost effortless manner, making elevated food feel more homely than pretentious.
43 E 28th Street
New York, NY 10016
Lunch: Monday – Friday 12PM – 2 PM
Dinner: Monday – Saturday 5:30PM – 10PM