Buns and Puns: Hunger Pang

12/03/2014 5:00 AM |
Photo by Jane Bruce

 

Hunger Pang
1021 Church Avenue, Prospect Park South

 

It’s pretty exciting when restaurants open in neighborhoods like Prospect Park South, which, in high contrast to Williamsburg, retains a rather spare selection of options (there’s a pretty decent pizza spot, Wheated, along with the well-liked Am Thai Bistro), but that’s about it. New eateries are generally met with a wave of good will from residents anxious to see an uptick in local dining alternatives, but for the rest of us they inevitably beg the question: Are these trailblazing newcomers notable simply because they exist, or truly worthy of mention outside the neighborhood?

Hunger Pang certainly gets a lot right on paper. Chef/owner Medwin Pang (get it?) is a lifelong resident of the area, who’s amassed quite an impressive culinary resume, working under luminaries such as David Burke, Masaharu Morimoto, and Jean Louis Palladin. And he’s turned his first solo venture, a casual, modern Asian restaurant, into a true family affair, keeping watch over the woks in the kitchen while his wife hosts or tends bar, and his brother handles tables up front.
All definite pluses, when you’re looking to make headway in a close-knit neighborhood such
as this.

Only open for a month so far, Pang is committed to working out the kinks, holding off on launching a website, or officially posting a hard and fast menu. Currently, he’s playing around with six small bites, two rice dishes, three noodles, three mains, and two veg; a Buddha’s Delight and a side of greens with chili garlic butter sauce (meat-free diners have begged Pang to up his vegetarian offerings, which he certainly should, and undoubtedly will). Overall, there are just enough choices to keep things interesting for customers, but limited enough for Pang to ultimately master.

He hasn’t quite gotten there yet. A recent meal proved a real mixed bag, with under-seasoned HP Rolls utterly indistinguishable from cheap Chinese takeout egg rolls, despite the promise of persimmon dipping sauce. We’ve never met a bao we didn’t like, and the version at Hungry Pang is solid, sporting fluffy, chewy mantou made in house. But when it comes to fillings, red-rimmed hunks of pork belly are the only way to go; don’t bother with the grayish wads of chicken confit. We wish the Birds Nest, a tight tumble of fried noodles topped with shrimp, chicken and pork, was plated in a shallower vessel, or at least delivered with instructions by our server; we’d already had one two many bone dry mouthfuls before we discovered the sweet slick of chicken and vegetable “jus” hiding out at the bottom of the bowl. But the one seeming outlier on the menu—a Black Angus Hanger Steak and Miso Butter Fries with negligible Asian influences—seemed to be the centerpiece of everyone’s table and for good reason; the perfectly seared, scarlet hunks of medium rare meat were tender enough to be plucked up with a chopsticks and eaten without a knife, and the skinny, miso-basted fries perfectly underscored the mineral, umami bomb of the beef.

Provided Pang can raise his game on other areas of the menu, it might just be a pan-Asian steak frites well worth traveling for.