Food Gallery 32
11 West 32nd Street, New York NY 10001 (b/n 5th and Broadway; map)
Service: Generally friendly and efficient
Setting: A futuristic tri-level food court
Must-Haves: Spicy Pork Teppan-yaki, seafood soft tofu casserole, bibim-nangmyun
Cost: Most dishes $7-10
Grade: All over the map
Check out our guide to the stalls »
It's hard to duplicate the almost otherworldly experience of dining at a Korean food court without catching a plane to Seoul—but Food Gallery 32, the new food court in the middle of Manhattan's Koreatown, is pretty otherworldly in its own right.
There's the space: food stalls of all sorts crowded into the main hall, with self-serve Red Mango near the door and a crepe stand on the third floor, where Korean pop star videos are shown on video monitors. The whole place is shiny and modern-feeling, much like the neighboring Foodparc; place your order and you get a little buzzer that lights and vibrates when your food is ready. And there's the range of the food, from ramen to bibimbap to bulgogi to seafood stews.
The draw of a space-agey Korean food court is enough; really, if you're going to Food Gallery 32, it's at least in part for the experience. That it's a fun place almost goes without saying—but what about the food?
Ed had visited once with friend and food adventurer Jeffrey Steingarten (who the predominantly young, female crowd treated like a rock star, thanks to his Iron Chef judging stints)—but with so many separate stalls, there's only so much three people (even with two esteemed food personalities among their number) could order.
So we returned a dozen strong for an epic eating adventure, checking out just about every dish Food Gallery 32 had to offer.
Get Your Bearings
First, wander back and decide which of the stalls you'll be ordering from. Since most of these spots don't have websites—they're all independently owned except for Red Mango—and the English translations of many menu items are quite brief, it can be hard to make sense of the offerings, particularly if you're not familiar with Korean food.
Need a primer? Check out our guide to the stalls, with menus, descriptions, and more,
An extremely good version of galbi for food court fare, the L.A. Galbi from Hanok ($9.95) had edges and a surface charred to a slightly crisp texture, while the flesh was fatty and beefy; the meat was well marbled and balanced in taste from a marinade that was not sickly-sweet, as some meat marinades can be.
The pork chop from Bian Dang (formerly known as NYC Cravings; pork, $8), though simple and straightforward in taste, was beautifully fried (the meat tender and juicy, the caps of fat rendered crisp) and paired with a minced pork sauce that had just the right balance of savory and sour. Spicy Pork Teppan-yaki from O-de-ppang! ($8.99) also had a near-perfect sweet-spicy balance.
Cold and refreshing, springy and delicate, the buckwheat noodles of the Bibim-nangmyun from Noodle 32 ($8.95) were fantastic, the sauce a nice balance of sweet and spicy; noodles were weaker elements elsewhere. Overcooked and soggy, the flour noodles were lifeless but the ramen noodles, which tasted like the cheapest packets you can buy at any grocery store, were even worse.
Soups and Stews
Noodle and soup dishes are smartly covered in plastic wrap, both to keep the heat in and to prevent stair disasters on your way up to the seating area. It's a touch we appreciate, especially given how good some of the stews are. The Haemool Soon Dooboo Chigae from Hanok ($7.95) was comparable to what's served at any of the soondubu places in Koreatown; even that, however, is saying a lot about the quality of the dish: custard-y tofu nestled in a spicy, oceanic broth that tastes clean, not muddy. The Hae Jang Guk (spicy oxtail stew) from Hanok could have been spicier—but the broth was excellent, tasting beefy and pure. Pieces of oxtail were tender, if not falling-off-the-bone tender; the cooks in the kitchen were careful to leave the oxtail meat still attached to tissues and tendons so that you got a bit of chewy contrast to the tender flesh with each bite.
Not all of the food falls neatly into traditional Korean territory, though—or even Asian. The Seafood Spaghetti with House Special Cream Sauce from Pastel ($9.95) was appealing in a sort of Olive Garden way. The white sauce—creamy, with flecks of parsley and a pronounced seafood flavor—was a nice complement to the noodles, cooked al dente; the garlic bread that accompanied the pasta was buttery and crisp, though perhaps not as saturated in butter as we would have liked. Even stranger was Pastel's Beef Gratin with Bulgogi Sauce ($9.95)—thin beef strips with sauteed peppers and onions, cheese, and an unfortunately goopy brown sauce, it was something like a burrito bowl meets a Philly cheesesteak meets... we're not sure what. If you get rid of the sauce, it's actually kind of appealing, in a total stoner-food way.
The Red Mango at the front door will undoubtedly be a major draw, not least because it's self-serve. And as self-serve fro-yo outlets go, it's an attractive one: lots of choices, all of the nozzles working well on our visit, plenty of sample cups to try the different flavors. The thing about Red Mango is that we've found the original sort to be the best, so the opportunity to try a dozen flavors (ranging from tasty to inedible) isn't that enticing. But it's nice to be able to determine your own serving, and portion out toppings, for a price that doesn't seem to be any higher.
What might be more fun, really, is to save room for the stuffed crepes at the crepe stand upstairs—some with good ice cream piled inside, as if the crepes were softer, crisp-edged cones. But by far the most exciting was a Milk Toaster ($5), raisin bread soaked in condensed milk, all inside a crepe. Gloriously excessive and delicious, like a satisfying bowl of breakfast cereal, it tastes of warm childhood food memories.
We knew Food Gallery 32 would be worth checking out. What delighted us is that it's worth going back to—whether for a quick lunch or a massive feast the likes of our latest visit. Spacious enough for groups, friendly enough for a solo eater, and cheap enough for frequent visits, it's dinner theater plus some pretty good eating—especially now that you're armed with our direction.