The Early Word: Food Gallery 32
Last Friday, we checked out Food Gallery 32 (11 West 32nd Street, 212-967-1678), the massive (15,000-square-foot) food court located in the heart of Koreatown. Food Gallery 32 only opened last week, so it's still a work in progress (Red Mango has yet to open its stall), but the multi-restaurant complex is worth a look-see.
Seven restaurants occupy the main floor. There's Boon Sik Zip, which offers primarily Korean sushi and fried snacks. Pastel serves up various cutlets and an assortment of spaghetti dishes. De-Ppang nods more to Japan with its selection of donburi, teppan-yaki, and rice balls. Bian Dang (formerly known as the Cravings truck) is selling its beloved Taiwanese snacks as well as heartier dishes like fried chicken and pork chops over rice. Big Bowl features a variety of Japanese- and Korean-style noodle dishes, from ramen and soba to bibim-guksu. Hanok offers a sort of greatest-hits of Korean fare, from pajun to bulgogi. And, finally, Jin Jja Roo offers Chinese-influenced Korean dishes (shrimp fried rice or jja jang myon, a noodle dish in black bean sauce). The second level is devoted to seating and also has a cell phone shop, should you realize you need a new mobile phone while eating kimchi.
The third floor has a crepe stall, plus the largest amount of available seating (and a neon-colored sculptural light fixture). We grabbed a table and sat amid other office workers and watched K-pop and lapped up our food. The variety available at Food Gallery is impressive, so we'd obviously have to return several times and try other stalls before making a final verdict.
To get your food, you first place your order at a central ordering station where you're given a vibrating buzzer. When the buzzer goes off, you go to the station you ordered from and pick up your food. It's a good system if you are a solo diner, but timing can be tricky if you want food from multiple stations or are with a group of people.
We ordered the bibimbop with tofu and a seafood and scallion pajun from Hanok. The pancake was a little doughy and lacked a variety of seafood (it was almost all octopus), but it was well-flavored and chock full of scallions. The vegetables and rice were served separately in the bibimbop, and because it was served in a metal bowl, it didn't have those crispy bits as when made in a hot stone bowl.
We also got the haemul kal-guksu from Big Bowl, which was a dish of flour-based noodles with seafood in a rich broth. The noodles were slightly overcooked, but the broth was nice and spicy -- great for a cold, snowy day.
All in all, the food isn't perfect, but it's important to remember that Food Gallery 32 is simply a food court and not a proper restaurant so you can't have the same expectations. It's worthwhile to see the immense space and it was a fun dining experience (if not a gastronomic success all around). But, unquestionably, the food here will trump a food court with Sbarro any day, anywhere.
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