This week, deadhorse hill’s little sister, simjang, finally made her debut under the watchful eyes of chef de cuisine Mike Wenc. Wenc has worked at a number of Boston’s top restaurants including Ribelle, Shepard, and Cafe du Pays. Wenc met executive chef Jared Forman six years ago at his very first cooking job – a stint at Strip T’s in Watertown.
At Worcester’s Best Chef on Sunday, Wenc told Mass Foodies, “Ever since he [Forman] opened deadhorse, he wanted me to come work for him, and it never worked out. But, finally, I was in between jobs and I came out here.” Worcester cast its spell on Wenc in no time.
The team of Wenc and Forman prepared a dish called “Korea Town in a Bite” for the occasion, a slow roasted pork belly bossam wrapped in mustard greens and served with kimchi and simjang mayo, then finished with scallions.
“We open March 1st on Shrewsbury Street in the old Sweet spot. We’re all really excited about it,” Wenc shared. The anticipated opening falls just three days after the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. The new concept is described as American-Korean and marks the second Worcester project for the leadership team of chef Forman, bar director Sean Woods, wine director Julia Auger, and co-owner Albert LaValley. “Simjang” is the Korean word for heart.
On Tuesday, curious customers flocked to deadhorse hill for the first taste of simjang’s menu at a preview event that drew an impressive crowd. Manager Ellen Benson reported that over 100 reservations had been taken for the preview, as of Monday evening.
The first look included bachan such as deviled eggs, yuzu mayo potato salad, cucumber namul, kimchi, yellow pickled daikon, and tiny pan-fried sweet and sour fish. The galibi, scallop crudo, offered bright punchy bites of crunchy soy, radish, and wintermelon in a chilly yuzu broth. The saelleodeu, Korean Caesar salad, combined mustard greens, tofu garlic dressing, gochutons, cured egg, and ultra crispy fish. Heartier plates included tteokbokki, sautéed rice cakes, with braised lamb shoulder, black garlic, and chunjang – salty black bean sauce. Derrick Walters, the mastermind behind deadhorse hill’s southern fried chicken thighs, was on hand in the dining room to try simjang’s take on fried chicken, served with a choice of miso soy roasted garlic, spicy gochujang, or salt and pepper.
Guests will find Woods behind the bar during the launch of the new restaurant. At Tuesday’s event, he provided a sneak peek at his vision for simjang’s cocktails. Offerings included his version of the Pain Killer and the Mai Tai alongside original creations like the Raft of Dead Monkeys and the Pineapple Expresso. The latter was made with tiki bitters, Parlor Coffee redux, lime juice, pineapple syrup, and Woods’ signature r(h)um blend. The striking cocktail was built in a large tiki glass with crushed ice, a swizzle straw, and a pineapple leaf garnish. Guests also enjoyed a selection of sake. Favorites included the junmai daiginjo & daiginjo, which emitted delicate notes of jasmine and the junmai ginjo & ginjo with aromas of fresh cut grass.
The team hopes simjang can be a “gateway” for Worcester’s epicurean scene. If Tuesday’s turn out is any indication, they’re already well on their way.