First Look at Worcester’s New Korean-American Simjang

The latest from the Deadhorse Hill team opens on Thursday.

Japchae at Simjang

Japchae at Simjang. / Photos by Stephen Phillips / Photos by Stephen Phillips

If you happened to pick up the Worcester Telegram this weekend, you would have read that the central Massachusetts city is the state’s hottest dining scene, second only to the Boston Seaport. The culinary group that’s a big reason for Worcester’s claim—the team behind Deadhorse Hill—is about to add to the wealth with Simjang, opening along Worcester’s Restaurant Row this week.

Simjang (stylized without any capital letters) is a new, American-Korean-inspired restaurant from chef-owner Jared Forman of Deadhorse Hill. Mike Wenc, formerly of Strip-T’s, Ribelle, Shepard, and Cafe du Pays, is on board as the new spot’s chef de cuisine; and the general manager is also a Boston ex-pat: Ellen Benson has worked for Moody’s, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Giulia.

The name is the Korean word for “heart.” It’s a nod to Worcester’s moniker as the “heart of the Commonwealth.” “Excitement and growth is pulsing through Worcester, and we love continuing to be a part of it by sharing one of our favorite cuisines with the neighborhood,” Forman said in a press release. The chef, a Brooklyn native, worked at David Chang’s Momofuku Ssam Bar before he joined fellow Momofuku alum Tim Maslow at the reimagined Strip-T’s. Forman co-owns Deadhorse Hill with Sean Woods (also formerly of Strip-T’s) and Albert LaValley. “We want simjang to be a place you can have fun, get messy, learn something new, and indulge.”

The dining room at Simjang

The dining room at Simjang. / Photos by Stephen Phillips / Photos by Stephen Phillips

The colorful, light-filled space on Shrewsbury Street is next door to hotspot Neapolitan-style pizzeria, Volturno; as well as a recently expanded Wormtown Brewery. Simjang is a short walk from Worcester’s Union Station, which welcomes MBTA commuter rail trains from Boston every two hours on Saturdays, and is about a mile away from Deadhorse Hill.

Simjang keeps some of the art deco design elements of the 1928 building in the form of floor-to-ceiling columns, and adds modern light fixtures, and bright, geometric splashes of color. Graffiti artist Arlin Graff hand-spray painted the restaurant’s focal point, a vibrant heart mural behind the 40-foot, rock maple bar. The main dining room has maple butcher block tables finished with bright stripes. Upstairs, there’s additional seating, a second bar, and a gaming lounge with suffleboard and vintage video game cabinets like Ms. Pac-Man and Big Buck Hunter. That space can also be reserved for semi-private events.

The menu starts with a raw bar selection ($11-$20), like gul (oysters on the half-shell with gochujang sauce, fish sauce mignonette, and key lime); and hoedeopbap, a sashimi bowl with salmon, kimchi, and nori mushroom rice. Small plates range from $9-$18, and include a Korean Caesar salad with mustard greens, tofu, tempura, and cured egg; soju-steamed littlenecks with white kimchi and grilled scallions; and a scallion kimchi pancake with pickled mussels and wile sesame mayo. There are individually portioned entrées including jjigae (a spicy seafood stew); bossam (roasted pork belly with ssamjang, perilla leaf, kimchi, and herbs); and galbi short rib with grilled chicories, braised daikon, and sesame. Large-format dishes like wood-roasted, dry-aged ribeye and cauliflower; and whole-fried fish are meant for the table, and there’s an array of flavors of Korean-style fried chicken wings and thighs.

As Simjang gets its bearings, the team will also introduce house-made soft-serve in rotating flavors like salted caramel miso, matcha, toasted rice, and yuzu.

Woods is behind the bar at Simjang, with a small but mighty cocktail program. Ten or so house drinks will showcase inventive flavor combinations rooted in classic tiki-style drinks—there’s a Simjang Sling; Pineapple Espresso, with rhums, coffee, pineapple, and lime; and a White Russian-esque nod in Nom Nom Nom, with rhum, Kahlua, and coconut milk. Beverage director Julia Auger has a thoughtful selection of lively, acidic, and fruit-forward wines, including rosés and sparklers. The bar features the Korean spirit soju, along with a robust selection of sakes.

A house red and white wine are on draft, alongside a dozen local brews erring on the “crushable, refreshing” side of things. Woods and team has teamed up with Hudson’s Medusa Brewing on an exclusive beer, called the Jang. Meaning “sauce” in Korean, it’s an easy-drinking pale ale that is meant to accompany the entire food menu, especially the Korean fried chicken.

Simjang opens Thursday, March 1, at 4 p.m. It will serve dinner every night but Tuesday from 4-11 p.m. to start, with expanded hours and daily service on the horizon. Follow along on Instagram @simjang_worcester—and start planning your next visit west.

72 Shrewsbury St., Worcester, 774-243-7750

Simjang team

(L to R) Simjang chef/co-owner Jared Forman, beverage director Julia Auger, chef de cuisine Mike Wenc, general manager Ellen Benson, sous chef Derrick Walters, and bartender Sean Woods. / Photos by Stephen Phillips / Photos by Stephen Phillips

Oysters at Simjang

Oysters at Simjang. / Photos by Stephen Phillips / Photos by Stephen Phillips

Photos by Stephen Phillips / Photos by Stephen Phillips

Hoedeopbap at Simjang

Hoedeopbap at Simjang. / Photos by Stephen Phillips / Photos by Stephen Phillips

Wings at Simjang

Korean chicken wings at Simjang. / Photos by Stephen Phillips / Photos by Stephen Phillips

Pineapple Espresso at Simjang

Pineapple Espresso at Simjang. / Photos by Stephen Phillips / Photos by Stephen Phillips