Madangsui means “Butler” in Korean. Back in ancient times, to be a Madangsui was a one-way ticket out of poverty and into a lifetime of servitude. Their job was to entertain the royalty and aristocracy. One particular task was to introduce dishes to their masters. Let’s say their master wanted beef for dinner. A Madangsui’s job was to procure, supervise, research and pray to lord their master not only eat, but love the food. Within time, a Madangsui became a culinary curator.
Flash-forward to the present. Manhattan based establishment, Madangsui, continues on the tradition. Their masters are YOU, their beloved customer. General manager, Q. Hyungkyu Lee (aka, Mr. Q), not only oversees the restaurant, he also supplies the meats, courtesy of his company, Master Purveyors Inc. He, the owner and head chef hand pick each piece of beef, pork, chicken, etc. In an age where restaurants are cutting costs by purchasing cheaper cuts of meats, Madangsui does the opposite. Mr. Q is also a butcher by trade, so his understanding animal parts, aging process and biology. In short, he knows his stuff.
Unlike most Korean BBQ restaurants where they marinade their meats to death, Madangsui starts off with just the meat itself and it is marinated 20 minutes before it is brought to your table. The theory being that the customer should be reminded how quality beef should taste by itself. The marinade only enhances the meat’s flavor, not over powering it.
The attention to detail extends to the wait staff taking the time not only explaining the variety of Banchan (반찬) to their customers, but also how to pair certain types of Banchan with the entrees the way a sommelier would pair wines with main courses.
Don’t expect haute cuisine at this place. The head chef wasn’t trained at Culinary Institute of America, etc. These recipes came from his mother, passed on from generation to generation. Mr.Q proudly mentioned the dishes served at Madangsui range from North Korea to South Korea. The taste of Kimchi form North Korea is milder and delicate. Kimchi from South Korea is more pungent, fermented and packs a spicier kick.
Don’t expect a “chi-chi” crowd either. Customers ranging from students, tourists, locals, Koreans and fellow Asians all feel at home there. You can partake Soju-Bombs while you’re having your seafood pancakes. The staff won’t rush you. Stay for as long as you like. People start hollering and screaming in joy. Did I mention their prices are very reasonable? You won’t have to break your bank account to enjoy your meal. This is almost like a Korean version of a diner.
Look, it’s not easy running a restaurant in New York City these days. The exuberant rents forced many establishments to close for good. If you want to open a restaurant in Manhattan, your landlord will become your business partner, you will need corporate sponsors and it will be a miracle if your eatery will last for twelve months.
Madangsui opened eight years ago and they are still there. Perhaps it is their defiance that makes them so endearing. It’s nothing fancy. It’s just really good Korean home cooking that matters in the end.
35 W 35th St, New York, NY 10001