By: Nyasha Chikowore
If you’ve never experienced ‘Anju’ at Mandu Restaurant (453 K Street NW 20001), March 6th was your last chance. Anju is a general term for Korean food consumed with alcohol. The Korean bar snack pop-up has been a hit, with patrons flocking to eat well after 10 p.m. every first Friday since its launch in June 2014.
Initially the pop-up was on a first come first serve basis, but it got so popular that a reservation became a must. I was lucky enough to snag my sister’s 11:30 p.m. reservation that she made at least a month prior. By the time my drowsy counterparts and I were seated, it was a few minutes shy of midnight. But how often do you get to eat Korean food that late in DC?
This month’s guest chefs included Jeff Black (Pearl Dive/Black Salt/Republic), Michael Schlow (Tico/Via Mata/Alta Strada), and Tim Ma (Maple Ave/Water and Wall). The menu included 13 items. Each item was priced at $6 or $15 for a set of 3. Some tables even ordered 1 of each, according to our waiter.
Considering my friends and I had actually eaten that day, we opted to only order a few items. I ordered the infamous mandu fried chicken, the braised pork belly, and the stir fry, which had shrimp, scallop, squid and ramen noodles.
My favorite had to be the braised pork belly, because…pork belly. It was crispy, juicy and while I’m not a huge fan of kimchi, the little that did come with the dish was a welcomed addition. The chicken wings, although quite rich in spicy soy glaze, were nothing short of amazing. I only had room for two out of the four wings but I definitely woke up the next day thinking about them.
My friends ordered the sunomono (cucumber salad), the mussels, the tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) and the pork belly taco. I personally sampled the majority of their dishes and was impressed by them all. Koreans clearly know how to snack right because 1) all of the menu items were delicious; 2) they were quite filling; and 3) they were everything you would want in a late night snack.
Guest bartender Christine Kim (Tico) offered an assortment of libations to be paired with the snacks, which is the whole idea & definition of anju-drinking snacks. Being a lover of whiskey, I ordered the Scotty Doesn’t Know, which was a Dewar’s based cocktail. It definitely hit the spot. Reminiscent of a refreshing lemonade with a hint of pear, it went down easy and was also cute with its sprinkling of pine nuts.
If you missed each first Friday at Mandu, you definitely missed out. Luckily, Danny Lee, chef and co-owner at Mandu, has plans to make Anju a fixture in a permanent location in The District. The prospect of a late night Korean snack bar with cameos from other talented chefs is a winning idea. Considering the popularity of the pop-ups, we may all need to make advance reservations to this hypothetical restaurant that may or may not ever exist.
Photo Credit: Nyasha Chikowore