Flushing: At Hansol Nutrition Center, Healthy Korean Food Puts its Best Foot Forward
If you were to give cursory notice to Hansol Nutrition Center's epithet, you might dismiss this Flushing restaurant as a health food restaurant, serving something leafy, something boiled, and something bland. However by most rights, the Korean attitude towards nutrition gives leeway to plenty of flavor, relying on the punch of herbs, the bracing heat of chilies, and even oil, fat, and animal protein in the right amounts, all with the goal of promoting a feeling of well being and balance.
This unassuming restaurant is one of the many Korean restaurants on Northern Boulevard, a must visit stretch of pavement for any culinary globetrotter. Inside, the dining room is agreeable and clean, with long comfortable wooden booths for groups. On my visits, the hospitality has been genuine, the menus are translated to English, the complimentary banchan (side dishes) were varied and generous, and the soju was ice cold.
Take the size of your group into consideration when ordering. Solo diners can look forward to your standard Korean staples, such as bibimbap ($9.99) or soondubu jigae ($9.99). There are also entire menu sections devoted to sharing—a tremendous platter of Andong jjimdak (soy sauce braised chicken, $23.99), jungol (large format stews, $26.99-$29.99), and entire fried chickens. Indeed for the best experience, one should come here with several dining companions, or better yet, a small army.
Online consensus may lead you to ordering the jungi gui tong dak ($13.99), a whole chicken that has been roasted in an electric oven. The skin of the chicken gets the slightest coating of batter and oil, resulting in a light fry effect, outwardly much healthier than a true fried method. The dark meat portions of the bird reap the most benefit from this cooking method, yielding juicy meat, ever-so-crisp skin, and the absence of excess oil or heaviness. However the lovely dark meat isn't enough of an apology for the breast meat, which was woefully tough and dry.
If your heart is set on a healthy variation of chicken, you would do much better with Hansol's version of samgyetang ($14.99), a stew of a young chicken which has been stuffed with glutinous rice and slowly simmered, giving the meat a gentle poached texture. The rice fortifies and thickens the chicken broth. Garlic, ginger, and ginseng give the soup its signature subtle fragrance, although the final, necessary seasoning of salt must be applied by the diner at the table.
Other noteworthy poultry dishes include the aforementioned andong jjimdak, in which nubs of bone-in chicken are braised in ganjang, the sweet, salty, umami-laden sauce, redolent of soy sauce, but uniquely Korean in that it's a by-product of the manufacturing of doenjang (fermented bean paste). Onions and bell peppers are added for flavor and texture, and dangmyeon (sweet potato noodles) and dduk (rice cakes) are added for filler.
Dak maeuntang ($26.99), is exactly the sort of dish that you should share with a group of friends on a cold winter night. Roughly chopped dark meat chicken and an assortment of vegetables—onions, scallions, potato, to name a few—are bathed in a fiery, gochugaru (chili powder) driven broth and set to boil over a gas burner at your table. The broth embodies the sort of embracing spice and savory heat that you tirelessly return to, slurp after slurp, despite your smoldering tongue.
I found that the single most revelatory dish at Hansol Nutrition Center is their take on jok bal (pig's feet). I'd long been somewhat disdainful of the traditional Korean preparation of pig feet, which are normally braised whole, boned, sliced into thick slabs, and served with lettuce and other sauces. I'd always thought that this technique was heavy handed and cloyingly profuse from the rich fat and gelatin found in pig feet.
At Hansol, similarly braised pig feet are sliced into manageably delicate slices for their take on jokbal buchu muchim ($21.99). They're scattered onto a salad of raw buchu (garlic chive), kkaennip (sesame leaf), sliced chili peppers, onions, and peanuts, and dressed with sesame oil and vinegar. The subtle onion tang of buchu play up the chilies as well as the refreshing mint and anise notes of the kkaennip, cutting cleanly through the brawny, fatty pork. The result is a pig feet salad that is simultaneously exhilarating and refreshing as well as a stick-to-your-ribs sort of dish—perhaps one of the best things I've eaten in Flushing.
Hansol is another unexpectedly great find in a neighborhood full of culinary surprises. It's a delight to eat nutritious food that doesn't compromise flavor or allure, and it's no small feat to elevate the humble pig trotter into such a healthy and gratifying dish.
Hansol Nutrition Center
160-26 Northern Boulevard, Flushing, NY 11358 (map)