Don’s Bogam – The Best Korean Restaurant in K-Town

In case there have been any doubts, let’s make something clear: I LOVE Korean food. I love the spice, I love the garlic, I love the salty, pungent fish that seem to pervade every dish…I LOVE Korean food! If you have every had Chinese or Vietnamese food, that is great, but don’t think it is anything like Korean food. There is a fiery, soulful touch to Korean food that really reminds me of Jewish cooking (the soulful part, not the fiery part…I don’t think Matzoh Ball Soup generally has a lot of fire in it). The only reason that I don’t eat it every day is because I am equally passionate about french fries. 
But when I need Korean food, there is one restaurant I always head to. It is, simply put, the best food I have ever found in NYC’s Koreatown. 
 Don’s Bogam is a rather upscale-looking wine bar and Korean restaurant. Not, at first glance, something terribly authentic. But, behind the extensive sake list and elegant decor is some damn good home style Korean cookin’.
Be sure not to return the first dish that you get. You didn’t order it, but it is absolutely sent out on purpose.Every meal at a Korean restaurant starts with panchan – little assorted dishes that are complimentary and bottomless! If your meal doesn’t begin with this, you ain’t at a Korean mama’s favorite restaurant. There are a few staples that always show up, like kimchi, but I have gotten beef-filled rice flour pancakes and even whole fried fish before as panchan! And don’t forget – you can get seconds of what you like the most! The only problem at Don’s Bogam is that…well, everything is my favorite.
Yeah, I’m still a pig. Deal with it.
 On the left: Sesame oiled green beans and on the right, spicy pickled daikon kimchi. The daikon is crunchy and tastes vaguely of radish and cabbage. It melds so well with the bright, lip tingling sauce-not out of this world hot, but spicy and pungent with the taste of anchovies and garlic.
Seaweed salad with mock crab (didn’t try this – can’t stand the texture of fake crab) and bean sprouts dressed with sesame. It might seem like there is a lot of sesame oil in the panchan – and there is – but the fatty, nutty taste is a necessary counterpart to the strong, garlicky tastes of everything else. 
 On the left is a marinated fish cake that almost tastes sweet – not as in sugary, as in mild and not tasting of the ocean at all. The texture is like the tofu outside inarizushi and the taste is similar – of slightly sweetened soy. There was barely any fishiness. On the right are tiny whole dried fish. And yes, those are definitely fishy. Not my fave.
Now THESE are another story! Marinated lotus root have the firm texture of water chestnuts without the vegetal taste. It tastes like a slightly crunchy potato, and the sweet-salty marinade is something that will drive you crazy with JOY. It’s something that kids will love, adults will love, pretty sure the Grinch would love…we ordered at least 3 plates of this. 
 Surprisingly, we did not get the standard, chili laced kimchi as panchan. Perhaps as a nod to the impending summer months, we got Baek Kimchi. It is still pickled cabbage, but without the fishy, hot taste. Instead it is very mild -sweet and sour with sugar and vinegar. It is not too far off from a vinegar based coleslaw, and the cabbage had the perfect combination of crunchy and wilted pieces. 
 We also got miso soup with the panchan. This isn’t like the soup you get at sushi restaurants – it is much sweeter tasting and far less salty. Not my favorite, since I am a salt fiend. 
 Spring Onion and Roasted Sesame Pajeon. This is a savory pancake that you can get with any variety of veggies, mean and/or seafood, but I prefer it with these bracing green onions and savory sesame seeds. The pajeon has the perfect texture – crispy without and slightly doughy within, with a pleasingly oily taste reminiscent of freshly fried latkes.
I TOLD you that Korean food reminded me of Jewish food! 
 The dense interior is the perfect sponge for the tangy, salty and surprisingly spicy dipping sauce. After a couple of pieces of the pajeon, I actually drank the sauce from the bowl. It was that umami-licious.
And then I needed a glass of milk. Because it was that spicy. Don’t worry, I made do with a piece of milk chocolate I had lying around in my purse for just such emergencies.
Although Don’s Bogam has a huge menu, including assorted galbi and the like for grilling on your own tabletop grill, there is really only one thing to order here…
 Pork and Chive Dolsot Bibimbap. Bibimbap is rice topped with anything from vegetables to marinated beef to a raw egg, and the dolsot is a stone bowl that is heated to what seems like 5,000 degrees. This means that your bibimbap arrives to the table still sizzling. The pork’s spiciness counteracts the meat’s natural sweetness, and the chives add a hit of vegetal freshness to the meat and carb heavy dish. There are sweet onions in there too, and delicate, earthy enoki mushrooms. I really missed swirling the raw egg around, gently scrambling it and enriching the rice with a velvety, barely set yolk, but my sister was sharing this with me. She wouldn’t let me get the egg.
Needless to say, she has bad taste.
 The gochujang served with this isn’t nearly as spicy as it looks. It is made with lots of chili peppers, yes but also has a hefty amount of sugar and fermented soybeans that add salty and funky notes to the sauce. This is kind of the blue cheese of spicy condiments – very pronounced, pungent flavors thanks to the fermented nature of the sauce. I can’t get enough of this stuff.
And this is the BEST part of the meal. When you get the dish and mix stuff around, be sure NOT to disrupt the thin layer of rice at the bottom. Just eat around it, enjoying the creamy, toothsome rice, the meaty pork, the fresh and sweet vegetables and the spicy gochujang. Then, when you are just about full enough to burst, scrape up the rice from the bottom of the bowl. The rice will have cooked together to form the most beautifully browned, crunchy, crusty bits. It tastes toasted and deep and is just HEAVEN. Seems simple, but sometimes the best things are.
And Don’s Bogam really is the best. It is a bit more expensive than other restaurants in K-town, but the quality and quantity of food more than make up for it. I am just so sad that this is the end of this post. I didn’t even get to mention the sweet bulgogi, the crispy and juicy mandoo, the INSANELY fantastic kimchi jigaee…
Ah, well…guess I will just have to go back.
Don's Bogam BBQ & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Comments

  1. Ada says:

    I work right by K-town but have never heard of Dons before, looks like I must add it to me must-eat-at-soon list! Thanks for the great review:)

  2. JustinM says:

    What about getting some fries from Pommes Frites and topping them with bulgogi? Too weird? I can only imagine the song you would come up with…

  3. Fritos and Foie Gras says:

    @Ada-oh it really is delicious! And the kimchi-jigaee is absolutely my FAVORITE thing to get there!!!
    @Justin-Not at ALL too weird! I think you may have put an idea in my head…

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