LittleMad by Sol Han Leans Into the Madness in NYC

By Gabby Romero

By

Gabby Romero
Chef Sol Han of Little Mad
Chef Sol Han of Little Mad

With a name that was originally only meant to pay homage to its Madison Avenue location, LittleMad now takes on a meaning of its own. “I didn’t make anything from this menu previously in my career,” says Sol Han, chef and co-owner of the newest Hand Hospitality restaurant. “I just wrote it down on paper and pen and didn't know how it was going to turn out.” And just like that, Han invented a set of whimsical dishes riffing on his Korean heritage—with the opportunity for diners to go a little “mad” with their food through add-ons, interactive plating, and tableside flourishes.

After spending his early career in fine dining at Ai Fiori and Le Coucou, Han wanted his first original concept to be more informal. “For fine dining, you have to go into it knowing you’re in for a ride,” Han says. “For LittleMad, you can just be you and chill out. You could even be in your underwear if you want.”

Formerly housing a hot pot restaurant, LittleMad’s building was retrofitted to maximize the guest’s interaction with the chefs. The walls were removed to open the kitchen out to the cozy dining room in an effort to make service a show. Han’s hand-curated playlist of classic hip-hop accompanies service as the back-of-house team interacts with the diners. 

LittleMad’s unfussy atmosphere is only part of its intention to make haute cuisine more approachable. The restaurant allows diners to “MAKE IT MADDER,” as the menu suggests, with the option to add uni, seasonal truffles, or Royal Osetra caviar to any menu item. General Manager Jean Lee developed a visual guide to demonstrate which add-ons pair best with which dishes. Alongside the menu description of Han’s yellowtail crudo, for example, are drawings of a mushroom and caviar pearls. Guests can add either or both or enjoy the meal on its own. 

Even without add-ons, LittleMad gives diners the chance to play with their food. Han’s beef tartare, spotted with smoked tofu purée and egg gel, is served with a large chip made of imported maesaengi seaweed and a wooden hammer. Guests can really go mad—using the hammer to smash the chip into fragments. Han himself comes out to add espuma over soft-shell crab and scrape bone marrow onto a buttery rice bowl. He says he believes a dish is 30 percent tastier if a chef finishes it tableside.

Although precise technique and out-of-the-box flavors are constants in his cooking, Han argues that the most important part of a meal is enjoying it with friends. “Mad to me means passionate, crazy, exciting,” he says. “Being mad means you just want to have fun.”

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