Korean BBQ, Minus the Americanization

My world travelling friends were  recently in New York for a trade show, and of course I jumped at the chance to hop the commuter rail from the suburbs and meet up with them.  They looked to me for New York City restaurant recommendations, but it’s been ten years since I’ve been a city girl, so I was hopeless.  As I was walking to their hotel I passed 32nd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues), also known as “Little Korea”.  I made a mental note as I’ve always wanted to try authentic Korean BBQ but for some reason never had the chance.  When my friend’s husband suggested we venture there for dinner I could not have been happier. 

We got a recommendation from the hotel concierge for a good spot, since there are dozens from which to choose.  When we walked in to the sleek, inviting space I noticed something immediately that made me very happy;  everyone in the restaurant was Asian, and likely Korean.  I once heard from an East Asian friend that the way to know if you are in an authentic Indian restaurant is whether or not there are Indians eating there.  Well, if her theory holds true, we’d hit the jackpot for Korean BBQ.

Korean BBQ restaurants are unique in that the food is cooked at your table.  There is a small grill sunken into the center of the table and the food is brought to you raw.  We were ready for this, but we were not ready for the huge menu that was presented to us.  Since each of us are adventurous eaters, we decided to ask the waitress to recommend a few entrees, which she did.  We ended up with short ribs (a Korean classic), a spicy pork dish, and another dish which defies explanation but was delicious.  But before that even came we were presented with a variety of little dishes, sauces, and appetizers of sorts, which come with the meal.  The first was a whole fish, battered and apparently deep-fried, which tasted a lot better than it looked (even though after living in Europe, fish heads don’t really bother me).  There was kimchi, julienned radish (which I believe was daikon radish), a number of sauces, and whole romaine lettuce leaves.  Of course we had no idea what to do with any of it and looked to our waitress for assistance.

The meat arrived and our server placed it on the preheated grill in our table.  Apparently, we were to take the cooked meat, place it in the lettuce leaf, add the correct sauce, radish, and wrap.  Absolutely delicious!  The non-grilled dish was a rice dish called dolsot bibimbot, brought to the table in a granite bowl I later found out is also called a dolsot.  It had all sorts of veggies inside, and a cracked egg on top.  The waitress then added one of the sauces she’d previously brought to the table and stirred it all up.  Let me tell you, it was fabulous.  I have no idea what exactly was in it, but it was excellent. 

We skipped dessert because we were completely stuffed, and I’m not sure Korean restaurants are known for their desserts anyway.  Even without dessert, we left completely satisfied and happy.  I loved that we had what seemed to be an authentic experience in an authentic restaurant with authentic food.   And to share it with dear friends?  Perfect.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.


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