Hampden’s dining scene seems to have been a little more of a revolving door lately, with various places coming and going. So it’s nice to see that Nori, which just replaced the recently departed Corner Restaurant and Charcuterie Bar, appears to have the right stuff for longevity.
This casual Korean restaurant — you might call it pan-Asian — offers a substantial menu that, with chef Chil Chong in charge, reveals freshness and imagination. Judging by our weeknight visit, there are kinks to be straightened out concerning logistics and service, but nothing too serious to prevent an enjoyable meal.
We opted for sidewalk seating on one of those rare summer evenings with blissfully low humidity. It was fun to see the charms (and the inevitable, distinctive characters) of Hampden glowing in the gentle light of the fading sun, while we sipped on a cheery-looking sake margarita that delivered a solid balance of pucker-ness and sweetness.
Another specialty cocktail, dubbed Tokyo River, left us less enamored. This mix of basil-infused vodka, tonic, soy sauce and a sprig of rosemary made for a curiously uneven drink, but we appreciated the novelty. There’s a lot of interesting stuff on the bar menu, including aged Japanese whiskeys and Korean wines. (The back bar, by the way, looks quite inviting.)
We were glad to have something to imbibe, since our initial food order arrived almost 45 minutes after we did. Only then did our otherwise pleasant server mention that the Korean seafood pancake typically took a while to make.
But, hey, good things come to those who wait, and that crisp-edge, juicy pancake impressed with its hearty filling of shrimp, octopus, squid and spices that added a potent little kick.
Another appetizer found great favor at our table — the shrimp shumai. The dumplings proved to be as light as a cloud, yet brimming with flavor. We would have willingly devoured a hundred of them.
We moved on to a sample from the sashimi portion of the menu, zeroing in on the seared pepper tuna. The elegantly presented fish, very fresh, tender and zesty, was another hit.
We were drawn to a couple of offerings under the “chef specialty roll” heading. The rainbow roll was an artful affair of tuna, salmon, avocado and more, again revealing vibrant freshness and harmonious flavors.
Same for the “b roll,” a rich combination that included crab, fried lobster (we couldn’t distinguish that taste as readily), eel sauce and abundant spices.
A savory poke bowl brought eel, shrimp tempura and mixed greens into happy alliance (you can also order poke bowls with mixed fruits).
The bulgogi bokkeumbap — marinated rib eye steak, onions, carrots and peppers mixed with fried rice — would have pleased us more had we found evidence of more than wisps of meat in the bowl. Still, it added up to a flavorful, filling treat.
Although the prices at Nori are wallet-friendly for the most part, you can spend serious money here, as in sushi platters that range up to $99. And there are $29 Korean barbecue short ribs. Sliced thin and liberally coated in a tangy sauce, those ribs, which shared a plate with a few shards of carrots, weren’t exactly the last word on tenderness. But they still disappeared quickly at the table. The robust flavor was hard to resist.
When we inquired about desserts, we were informed there were none, which prompted one of our party to exclaim: “Good.” There really was no need, and certainly no room, for anything else.
850 W. 36th St., Hampden
Cuisine: Korean and other Asian cuisines
Prices: Appetizers $5 to $13; sushi mostly $4 to $7; entrees $17 to $29
Ambiance: A low-key, down-to-earth vibe
Service: Spotty, but friendly
Reservations: Yes (by phone)
Parking: Free and metered street parking
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes