8464 Kalayaan Avenue, Poblacion, Makati City
Open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Tuesday to Sunday
(SPOT.ph) Living in Metro Manila, chances are you’re a fan of traditional Korean food such as samgyupsal, kimchi, and scallion pancakes. You probably have a go-to Korean barbecue spot and a favorite fruit-flavored soju that you’ve ordered for home one-too-many times during the quarantine. Don’t worry, a lot of people are in the same boat as you, given how many Korean establishments have opened in the last half-decade alone. However, a question not often thought about by fans of this cuisine, but that’s definitely worth considering is: where does my palate for Korean food take me from here?
Rather than answering that question directly, the newly-opened Poblacion restaurant West 32 provides the necessary and exciting questions that will further your appreciation for Korean food and even your own personal palate as well. The Korean restaurant is named after West 32nd Street in New York City, more widely known as Koreatown, which sets the stage for the type of riffs on traditional Korean meals the restaurant-bar has in store.
Modern trends meet traditional Korean cuisine at Korean restaurant West 32 in Poblacion:
You won’t find a sign or any exterior label marking West 32’s location, which means word-of-mouth and friendly referrals are primarily how the restaurant finds the crowd to fill its seats. This contributes to a distinct feeling of homeyness that is felt all throughout the venue. While definitely still a new spot, the place feels packed with regulars, with people who are all in on the knowledge that this is a good place to frequent. This is definitely the New Yorker sensibility coming alive; where people can find a sense of community simply over food and a common venue.
The intimate venue has its mood set by dim overhead lighting and an inviting red light emanating from the bar. The unpolished tiles decorating the wall evoke the feel of the urban New York subway stations, while the metallic bars around the bar are patterned after those normally found in traditional Korean palaces.
The bar is filled completely with soju-infused cocktails, but note that these aren’t your regular fruit-flavored soju drinks. They have a more complex flavor profile, as they aren’t based off any singular fruit and instead emphasize a mix of different fruits, citrus, and spirits. The Umeshu Spritzer (P350) is a sweet drink that boasts their strongest, unfiltered soju, mixed with ginger ale and white wine. Drinks such as the Melon Gong (P250) are similarly made with soju but don’t have the alcoholic kick that you may be accustomed to, as it’s diffused by an inclusion of citrus that defuses the soju bite. It’s a sweet, fruity cocktail that’s easily accessible.
Much of the menu will feel familiar to fans of Korean fare. Included in their lineup, of course, is the classic Korean Fried Chicken (starts at P349) which comes in two variants: Soy Garlic and Spicy Yangnyeom, in what is a perfect balance between the traditional Korean and modern Filipino palates. The Soy Garlic chicken has just the right amount of sweetness to it, while the Spicy Yangnyeom definitely pushes you in terms of spice tolerance, but also kicks it back long enough for you to be reassured that you can handle it. Go ahead and have their wings solo or with their banchan on the side (the selection of which they change based on seasonal ingredients). You can also make it a real party by ordering up their traditional take on Bibimbap—which is available with proteins like the Beef Bulgogi (P669) and Crispy Fish Cake (P599), and cooked in a hot stone bowl that lends a crispness to the bottom layer.
Elsewhere, West 32 isn't afraid to tap into their playful side. Cheese is a component largely embraced by Western countries for their meal preparations, but has only started to gain traction in the Korean culinary scene in modern times. It’s telling that a highly popular appetizer of theirs is the Rosé Tteokbokki (starts at P339). Dipped in a mild gochujang cream sauce, this traditional rice cake carries a manageable spice level that’s offset by the dish’s inclusion of melted mozzarella and cheddar cheese. It’s a dish that smoothly oozes its way through your mouth so you feel every little kick of spice and sweetness.
The Korean palate through the filter of Western sensibilities is also pushed through other dishes on the main course. West 32’s Samgyeopsal (starts at P499), for example, goes beyond the classic straightforward grilled-meat affair, with pork that's cooked sous vide between 10 to 24 hours before being seared, much like Western steak preparation. It’s a subtle alteration, but one that serves the dish so that the thick-cut meat ends up more tender.
Make no mistake: classic Korean fare will always have its own distinct appeal that's well worth honoring in its own right. But West 32 teaches us how creativity and more contemporary techniques can figure into the mix—with stellar results. It’s funky experimentations such as this that truly showcase there’s always exciting, new directions to let your Korean palate take you.
Photos by Majoy Siason
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this strange new world.