Downtown Stamford serves up first Korean BBQ
Growing up, Paul Ma watched his parents hone their craft on two continents. Now, he has taken the lessons he learned to follow in their footsteps on a third.
Ma opened last week Bull Pan Korean BBQ, in a new 3,500-square-foot storefront at 485 Summer St., representing what he says is Fairfield County’s first Korean barbecue restaurant. He drew the inspiration for his first eatery from similar establishments that his parents ran when the family lived in Seoul and Buenos Aires, before they relocated when he was 14 to Queens, N.Y.
“I see so much potential with Korean food,” Ma, 38, said during an interview last week at the restaurant. “Korean food is all about flavors.”
Patrons can expect to sample during any meal an array of meats, many of which come from an Oklahoma farm. A dinner beef combo, for two to four people, would include sliced brisket, marinated short rib, as well as rib-eye or boneless short rib. Pork combos include pork belly, marinated pork ribs and sliced, spicy pork.
Servers cook the meats on tabletop grills.
“We don’t go only for one portion of the cow meat; we actually do a lot of different parts,” Ma said. “Some of it comes marinated, and some of it comes raw. ... The more marinated style is the Korean traditional style.”
Dinner meals typically include around 10 side dishes, including kimchi seasoned vegetables, bean sprouts, seaweed, spinach, radish, onions, snow peas and corn cheese. The vegetables help to balance the meats’ fatty content.
“You eat a lot of side dishes, even though you have your main dishes,” Ma said. “We like to mix our meat and vegetables. ... That’s eating healthy, Korean style.”
The meats are supposed to be folded in wraps — using lettuce and other sides as the outer layer, and adding sauces and other toppings such as rice to the meats.
“It’s all about wrapping,” Ma said. “This is the traditional way of eating Korean barbecue.”
Dinner combos also come with stews such as brisket soybean paste, kimchi and spicy soft tofu.
Appetizers include dumplings, noodles and seafood, beef and kimchi varieties of pancakes.
Bull Pan’s name refers to how the grill is described in Korean, Ma said. The logo doubles as a bull’s head and a flame.
With its floor-to-ceiling windows, Bull Pan’s opening has not escaped the attention of passers-by. A crowd of about a dozen pedestrians gathered in front of the window to watch and snap pictures with their phones of a tabletop demonstration last week by chef Kim Yeong Gon, who has cooked Korean barbecue for more than 40 years.
In total, Bull Pan would initially employ 15 to 17, Ma said.
“This is something completely different,” said Alex Encarnacion, marketing director for Stamford-based Zapata Marketing Group, during an afternoon visit to the restaurant last week. “It looks beautiful and very modern. It caught my eye when I walked by. The atmosphere is very relaxed.”
Ma, who lives in Wilton with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, said he was drawn to downtown Stamford by its diverse dining scene. He previously worked in the cell phone and credit-card processing industries.
The restaurant’s neighbors in the same block include the Greek restaurant Eos, Mexican restaurant Cantina Mexicana, Italian restaurant Siena and Japanese restaurant Kotobuki.
“There’s a great community here,” Ma said. “I think all of our restaurants can do well because we all offer something different.”
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