Over the last couple of years I have been increasingly curious about Korean food. Empowered by Outseeker’s ability to find restaurants to fit my Mood, I figured it would be good to combine a test of the Outseeker app with my interest in this foreign cuisine. I did a simple search of “Korean” food using the “Foodie on a Budget” Mood.
The results offered an interesting assortment of the various styles and flavors that Korean cuisine has to offer. Guided by the top six choices, I invited a few friends to come explore some of NYC’s best Koreatown offerings including two fried chicken choices (BonChon Chicken and KyoChon), two Korean BBQ places (New Wonjo and Don’s Bogam), and two “other” options including a tofu haven (Cho Dang Gol) and a dumpling spot (Mandoo Bar).
It was also nice to have these choices made for us because, if you’ve not been to Koreatown, making a choice would be really hard! Normally, a restaurant-goer might discern “goodness” (what we at Outseeker call "Suitability") by looking at a restaurant's frontage or menu. If that normal restaurant-goer were to stroll down the streets of K-Town, the usefulness of those gut-checks would sublimate in the face of Korean text adorning the street and the fact that you could probably swap any of the food photos between the restaurants with none the wiser except perhaps the restaurants to whom those photos belong.
One last housekeeping thing before I share the details of our adventure. I must recognize that one cannot talk about Korean cuisine without mentioning the “banchan,” which translates literally to “side dishes.” These small, communal offerings vary from place to place, but you can usually expect the most recognizable staple of Korea: kimchi. I won’t delve into an academic presentation of the vast array of banchan offerings nor will I go into detail about the actual banchan presented at each restaurant we visited. However, I did need to at least mention it and I’ll say that not one was a letdown.
First up: Cho Dang Gol
The adventure begins with us landing at Cho Dang Gol at 11:30am. I had actually been once before and knew it to be the real deal. My previous experience was with the assistance of my friend who hails from South Korea and is a trained chef and hospitality professional. Not a lick of English was spoken between her and the server. I had no idea what we ordered; I just knew that the results were amazing. In her absence, we Outseekers went it on our own and learned that without guidance from an expert at the table, there was little to be found from the service staff here.
We ordered three appetizers and two stews. All of the food was delicious, but it’s of no surprise that the tofu was the best part of the meal, followed by the mushroom caps, with service lagging very, very far behind. They make the tofu in house and the flavors, colors, and textures are quite notably different from the flavorless white blocks you may find in your local supermarkets.
· When we thought about the Outseeker grade of 98 we felt good about the decision that Outseeker made for us here.
· Our humble opinion, especially in hindsight, is that one should go to Cho Dan Gol for the tofu and explore what the rest of K-Town has to offer for the other stuff like stews, dumplings, and BBQ classics.
· Both Outseekers Andre and Christian noted “sub-par” service, but felt Outseeker got the Value for Money rating right at 66.
Dumplings for Days: Mandoo Bar
Here we learned that “mandu” and similar sounding words throughout Asia are “dumplings.” We sat down and looked over the exceptionally budget-friendly menu; most dishes were listed at or around $14 and considering the sizeable portions, this was indeed a bargain. Without asking the server (who didn’t come over unless summoned) we used “People Talk About” to help us order. As an aside worth noting, having servers not engage with us until summoned was a theme among all of the sit-down restaurants we visited. Anyway, we ordered the combo of dumplings, allowing us to try the seafood, pork, and vegetable offerings.
We also ordered the Kim Chi Ramen, a small beef soup, and the traditional, ubiquitous japchae. The beef soup and the japchae were outstanding. The dumplings had a surprisingly thick wrap, but they were packed with plenty of goodies inside. The portions were really big, especially for lunch, and ringing up at under $15 was a steal… But we were two restaurants in and already getting full.
· We all agreed that the “Value for Money” was better than what Outseeker had said, which is always a good surprise!
· Of the three dumplings offered in the combo, the pork dumpling win the prize here.
· Outseekers Andre and Dwayne loved the kimchi here and were impressed by the attentive service
We actually had to take a small break at this point. We thought it would be interesting to get some tea, so we asked the waiter where to go. He made a good recommendation down the street at a bakery/coffee house. These sorts of places are really common in Asian communities in the USA with Koryodang (curiously, no website is available) and Paris Baguette being some of the more famous, larger chains. We had some tea and coffee, and continued on our quest.
You’ll have to stay tuned for our BBQ and fried chicken experiences in the next post to see how this story ends, though. In the meantime, have any thoughts about banchan? K-Town? Korean-style service as compared to American-style service? Comment here and let’s get a discussion going!