289, rue Saint-Denis
I’ve long been a fan of Korean food. I’ve been making my own kimchi for over a decade and continue to work my way through the city’s Korean restaurants. So, when I read a few years back in a UK-based magazine that Korean food was trending, it seemed there would soon be even more choice to come. But things remained relatively status quo on the Korean front in Paris. Sure, something popped up in le Jeune Rue (the highly anticipated Paris gastro-project that is currently going nowhere.) But otherwise, there wasn’t much new here until now.
The Quixotic Project team (Candelaria, Le Mary Celeste, Glass) is once again ahead of the curve with their latest opening: Hero, Korean Restaurant and Bar. Rather than rest on their laurels, this group has brought something fresh and unique to the scene with each new opening, earning them a fiercely loyal legion of foodie and drinkie fans.
Hero isn’t a hole in the wall with big bowls of bibimbap (not that I’m opposed to places like that.) It’s three stories of cool and playful design. The street level is a tiny bar with 8 or so seats where people squeeze in for drinks and munchies. Upstairs is more restaurant-style seating with wooden stools, tables and booths. In the center is a freestanding hand-washing sink, and once you order the fried chicken you’ll understand why this is a brilliant addition.
In the lower level is where chef Haan Palcu-Chang turns out plates of sticky, sweet, spicy, crunchy and effin’ good fried chicken. We tried the gochujang version, which displayed a respectable level of heat (although I could have handled more.) And, while I was expecting something closed and steamed for the pork buns, what I got was an open, meaty, most excellent saucy pork slider (a format which allows for more meat than a stuffed bun!) The “3 snacks” was a 5 Euros tasty trio of fried sweet potato, a peanut dish and a salad.
I will be back soon to try the kimchi mac’n’cheese, which is getting rave reviews. I am also obsessed with the YOLO option for dining à deux: A whole fried chicken + a bottle of Champagne + a bottle of Soju for 100 yoyos. Along side these things, the menu offers a few salad and dessert options with prices ranging from 3 to 14 Euros. It works for both bar snacks or a more substantial meal.
Now, let’s talk cocktails. Heading up the bar team is Simon, whose impressive work we’ve previously seen at some of the city’s better spots including la Conserverie and Candelaria. While he’s playing around with a dry cocktail option, the drinks are mainly sweet. And, those of you know who know my tastes might think this wouldn’t work for me. However, with the spice of the dishes and the frozen format of two of the cocktails, extra sweetness is exactly what’s needed. Basically, it’s a small selection of cocktails made to go alongside Korean-inspired snacks. (But, dear Simon, that doesn’t mean I’m not still curiously awaiting my dry option!)
And, just as the Korean nibbles are on-trend, so are the cocktails. Globally, we’re seeing a movement back to something a little more fun and playing (while still being well-made). Rather than martinis and manhattans, you’ll find a tiny selection of cocktails from 8 to 12 Euros in fun colors, sporting bright umbrellas or boasting tapioca bubbles. And, while I love my classics, you gotta keep things current as well. So, kudos to Simon for keeping it fresh without foregoing quality or originality.
Want some specifics? The frozen cocktail Thug Life is an “everything but the kitchen sink” of a drink that surprises with an excellent balance of sweet/tart and also introduces customers to an unusual old French ingredient, Antesite (a licorice based concentrate, dating from 1898). Other drink options include interesting prep or ingredients, but it’s no fun if I don’t leave a few things for you to discover on your own. In addition to cocktails, there is a selection of soju, bubbles or Korean lager by the bottle. (no wine)
Other interesting items of note: Downstairs the counter seating surrounding the kitchen will soon be serving as a chef’s table where Haan will be creating slightly different dinners to what’s served on the menu. They also have an online reservations system that I highly recommend using as the place is consistently packing out.
So, while at home I may still be making my traditional kimchi’s and martinis, I’m thoroughly tickled to have some fresh choices for the Paris drinking and dining scene. And, fortunately, we can always count on Quixotic for that.