In a tiny little nook of a restaurant parked on Madison Avenue, the kitchen likes to make things … madder. Sorry, not madder, mädder, a mantra of sorts dreamt up by chef Sol Han and Hand Hospitality, the same restaurant group behind Korean darlings such as Atoboy, JUA, and Her Name Is Han.
A New York restaurant with Korea in mind, LittleMad is very much a reflection of its chef-owner: Born in Seoul and raised in New York, Han started his career as a teen, washing dishes and making teriyaki chicken at his parents’ Japanese Long Island restaurant, Sakura, before heading into a fine-dining career (you’d have previously found him working the open kitchen at Le Coucou as the executive sous).
Now helming his very own open kitchen with 90’s hip hop in the air, Han has created a deeply personal menu where French technique brushes up against Korean nostalgia, and where a playful sense of indulgence, embodied by the “Make it Mädder” ethos — your add-on choice of uni, truffle, or Royal Osetra caviar — pervades it all. Here, Han takes Resy on a deep dive into four dishes on the menu.
(Asian pear, sesame dressing, scallion oil)
“Our most popular dish is definitely the yellowtail. It sells like wildfire, and it’s a very nice way to start: Yellowtail sashimi, sliced and served with Asian pear. I put Asian pear in the front, Asian pear in the back, yellowtail in the middle, and I stood it up, so it resembles a swimming fish.
“It’s one of my favorites because the actual sauce is the sesame dressing that my parents used at their restaurant for over 20 years. I grew up eating it, so when I actually taste the dressing, it just brings me back a lot. I started going over to my parents’ restaurant when I was 14 years old, helping them wash dishes, and I picked up a knife when I was 15. My parents ran a restaurant business as hardworking immigrants, and I feel like that’s exactly why I’m cooking.”
(Wagyu, caviar, seasonal truffle)
“We have sourdough bread from Sullivan Street Bakery, toasted in some butter, and on top of that, the first layer: Our take on Korean egg salad — hardboiled eggs, mayonnaise, sesame oil, diced apple (Koreans always put apple. I don’t know why; I just followed suit) koji (fermented rice that brings a lot of umami), chives, and sesame seeds.
“You could eat it just like that — it’s freaking delicious. But to make it ‘mäd,’ we use the trims of the Wagyu beef from the tartare entrée — we can’t let it go to waste — seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pickled ramps from the spring. And then on top, golden Osetra caviar and black truffle.
“It’s kind of like stupid simple, but stupid delicious: They’re $25 a pop and it’s only two to three bites, but you need to treat yourself. And if you’re at LittleMad, you’re probably going to treat yourself. That’s the concept.”
(Seasonal mushrooms, bone marrow, maple soy)
“For the rice dish, we wanted to do a ‘mäd’ concept. Growing up, my white friends would come over, grab a scoop of rice, and put butter in it — not a very Korean thing to do, but a very American thing to do. I wanted to season the rice base with butter. And on top are some very high-end mushrooms, all imported from Korea.
“We use three different types: Shogun maitake mushrooms — they’re amazing — oyster mushrooms, and king trumpet mushrooms. We dice them up bite-sized, roast them in a pan, and then season that with soy sauce and maple syrup. It’s a weird combination, but it’s fire — really delicious. As an herb, we do perilla. Perilla is sesame leaves. In Korea, it’s the most commonly used herb, and we put that on top of the mushrooms.
“Essentially, it’s now a vegetarian dish that’s really good by itself. But we wanted to add the ‘mädness,’ so we do a six-inch cut of bone marrow, roasted in the oven, and we scrape that tableside, right onto the beautiful dish and make it not vegetarian. The bone marrow just gives it that bold flavor. And with the maple syrup, it works really well. Every table makes me wait to scrape the bone marrow! It’s very Instagrammable.”
(Marcona almond, anchovy, horseradish)
“We use a very high-end pork belly, 100% Berkshire. It almost reminds me of the Jeju black pigs. The fat-to-meat ratio and the flavor are really nice. We score it and salt it to draw out moisture from the skin, so it gets nice and crispy, and brine the pork belly overnight in some garlic, water, sugar, salt, and freshly squeezed orange juice. It breaks down the protein while it’s seasoning the meat. You could cook it and eat it like that.
“The next day, we rinse it off and slow roast it in the oven in its fat for about two hours, right up to the skin, so it’s still exposed. Then we flip it skin side down, fry it in the fryer, and it fries up like a chicharron.
“On top of the pork belly, we have beautiful market greens in an anchovy vinaigrette. In Korea, a lot of people dip their pork belly in anchovy sauce. It works really well: Salty, briny, umami, that deep fermented anchovy with nice pork. Sounds weird, but it’s not; it’s delicious because of that extra punch. We chop up really nice anchovies, add olive oil, parsley, minced shallots, and 20-year aged sherry vinegar. It gives it a lot of depth and a lot of acid to cut the fat, while balancing the saltiness from the anchovy. On top of that, we grate fresh horseradish, because it gives a little bit of that spicy back-of-the-nose, back-of-the-throat flavor.”