Barn Joo – A Fantastic Korean Happy Hour

The flatiron district is really lucky. It has awesome cocktails, upscale Italian, and now a totally tasty Korean gastropub with an awesome happy hour.

Come on, share the love, downtown!

Barn Joo is a casual, cook Korean influenced pub that is just awesome. It is large and modern-industrial with a long table up front, a private lounge in back, and even karaoke…

that’s right, kimchi AND karaoke. Why isn’t this place mobbed every single night, again? I would come here on a date, with friends, or by myself for the happy hour.

And it really is an awesome happy hour.

photo_1 (6)Fried Oysters

What a simple name for a complex dish! Delicately friend oysters, are battered then fried until JUST cooked, so they are briny and sweet inside their whispery thin coating. They are served atop a sweet, sour, viscous sauce that is so addictive I could have eaten it whole. Don’t forget a swipe of kimchi mayo that emphasizes the crunch of the batter with its creamy texture. These are the perfect bar food – tasty, eaten by hand, and fried (though not at all heavy).

photo_2 (7)Chicken meatballs

I thought I knew meatballs. Oh how wrong I was. These meatballs, made with chewy Korean rice cakes, have a totally unique texture. They are crispy and nutty without and pleasantly toothsome within – they are tender but don’t fall apart. They are heavily spiced with aromatics like ginger and coriander that make the rice cake’s natural, earthy flavor stand out. The dipping sauce was, to may tastes, way too sweet, but mys sister loves it, so if you have a major sweet tooth, you might be a fan, too. photo_3 (6)

Roasted Mushrooms

The sleeper hit of the menu. Roasted mushrooms I have had, but roasted mushrooms like these? Never. Assorted mushrooms – some soft, some hearty, some delicate, some fiercely woodsy…these are exceptional. They are roasted with soy, butter, and a touch of garlic. And they are…addictive. They satisfy my craving for meat completely. And that salty butter sauce…yeah, that is liquid gold.
photo_4 (3)
BJ Burger

One of the best burgers I have had since Corner Bistro. It’s heavily grilled with a thick, charred crust and a beautifully pink, juicy center. It’s topped with melty cheddar cheese and a myriad of toppings. A sharp scallion slaw, that wonderful kimchi mayo, and minty perilla leaves. The grilled kimchi is inspired -ti turns the pungent, salty kimchi into sweet, slightly crispy, caramelized cabbage topping. Its’ aon a squishy bun and served aside a plethora of thick, fresh cut fries.

The best part of this review is that most of these dishes are on the happy hour menu! They are under $10 each and can be enjoyed with beer , wine, or cocktails.

The service is exemplary, the price is right, and the food is awesome. Sitting at the bar with a burger and the fun bar staff is a great way to spend the night.

Aww, flatiron…some hoods have all the luck!

Korean Restaurant Guide Launch at Hanjan

My love for Korean food is well documented. Whether traditional or nouveau, I love me some kimchi, gochujang, and bibimbap. However, it isn’t as mainstream as, for example, Chinese or Thai cuisines. It just isn’t as well-known, and whereas any small city in northern New Hampshire will have at least one place to get lo mein and an almond cookie, if you live in a place without a big Korean population, you probably haven’t’ gotten a whole lot of chances to eat Korean food.

Luckily, when you visit NYC, you now have a guide to help you.

The launch of the Korean Restaurant Guide is incredibly exciting for all of us who know and love banchan. It’s a guide curated by the Korean Food Foundation, Chef Hooni Kim, and food writer Matt Robard that highlights the 40 best Korean restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. From high-end multicourse meals to fusion fries topped with cheddar cheese and bulgogi, this guide covers the best of the best in both English and Korean printing, tells you what the best dishes are, and how much you can expect to spend for your meal. Don’t want to schlep around the small guide? Just give the app a try – it should be available in March. This is exciting because now people have a guide to help them become acclimated to the world of Korean food. It’s garlicky and spicy and deeply satisfying. It’s the best, most vibrant colorful parts of other Asian cuisines fused into its own special collection of flavors and textures. If you haven’t tried Korean food, this guide may change your culinary life.

Of course, the guide isn’t the only reason I had to write this post. The luncheon to announce it was held at Hanjan, the new restaurant from Hooni Kim, who runs the incomparableDanji. This slightly larger, causal restaurant features many small plates and we were treated to a few items that chef Kim personally prepared for the meal.

Butternut squash porridge

The first realization that this would not be a traditional Korean meal. There was no garlic here, no fiery pepper paste of scallions. Only smooth, silky butternut squash soup that was as sweet and comforting as Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house. Even the rice was in the form of rice powder, used only to thicken the soup and give it a very smooth texture. This is a rich but not at all heavy or gloppy way to start the meal.

Bean Sprout, Napa cabbage, and bean sprout kimchi

Here was where the traditional flavors started to shine. The spinach kimchi is clean tasting and bright, with a slightly spicy taste of garlic. The Napa cabbage is the most traditional, spicy and salty and just a bit briny from the fermented fish that was likely used in the recipe. The bean sprouts were crunchy and slippery, nutty with sesame oil. This kimchi trio isn’t overtly flavored, it doesn’t leave you feeling like you sucked a sachet filled with the world’s stinkiest ingredients. It’s more subtle, luring you into the flavorful, intricate world of Korean food.

Grilled beef short ribs, winter lettuce, and ssamjang

Some of the best galbi I have ever had. Rich and falling apart tender, with a really pronounced beefiness that is almost funky, like an aged steak. Marinated in a sweet and salty sauce and served alongside ssamjang, bitter, pungent, and spicy with fermented beans and peppers, it is just wonderful. It’s your favorite bbq short ribs kicked up and moved far East. Wrapped in stiff winter lettuce, it was a bite that was hot, cool, crisp, and fatty all at once. I would come back to Hanjan for what they can do with meat.

That’s what she said.

Five Grain Rice

Sorry, I hated it. I like beans and I like rice and I like seeds. Put them together and they taste like mushy grass. I just can’t do it.

Korean citron sorbet

Unbelievable. A standout in a very tasty meal. Tart like lemon, sweet like orange, fresh and fruity like lime. It has a hint of bitterness like yuzu and the texture is so creamy that it might as well be ice cream. It’s sweet and refreshing – a perfect ending to a salty, spicy, beef heavy meal.

Though I haven’t tried the normal menu yet, I can already tell that I will love Hanjan. The long communal table, the inventive and flavorful food, and the prices that seem fair for the quality I will certainly be back soon to see for myself. And I will also be headed to the other tasty restaurants listed in the new Korean Restaurant Guide.

Kimchi, come to mama.

*This was a press meal. I was not required to write about it, and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Hanjan on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Noodle Bar – Unique Ramen and Rockin Buns

It’s hard to have a restaurant in NYC that is cool and relevant for even a minute. If you have one for years? Along with an ever expanding empire, a name in the media, and a highly acclaimed magazine? Well then, you are probably David Chang. The man behind the Momofuku has several restaurants, all of which are still so cool that you will have to wait a minimum of 25 minutes, no matter what time of day you walk in. Don’t expect his restaurants to be traditional, but do expect them to be delicious and very inventive.

Case in point: Momofuku Noodle Bar.

This long, light East Village restaurant is always packed, but the tables turn quickly. Expect to be jostled as you wait for your seat (don’t forget to put in your name with the host), and then consider yourself lucky if you get a booth. Most of us are sat at a long, high communal table with stools without backs. Just FYI.

Brisket buns with horseradish mayo, pickled red onions, cucumber, and lettuce

Having already tried the famous pork buns, I went with the brisket buns this time. Wow. Really, really awesome. Very tender brisket, with a melting layer of fat, smoky as if it was on the BBQ, but soft as if it were cooked the Jewish way. Layered on a soft, sticky bun with cool veggies and creamy, hot horseradish mayo, this really hits the spot. It also prepares you for the rest of the meal – not traditional, not totally Korean OR Japanese OR anything else…just totally Chang. 

Chilled spicy noodles with sichuan sausage, spinach,a nd candied cashews

Stop the presses. This may be my new favorite noodle dish in NYC. 

The noodles are incredibly springy and al dente, with just enough give to absorb the mouth numbing, lip tingling, nose running house made chili oil. The sausage is hot and juicy, filled with Sichuan spices that are warming and aromatic. The spinach soaks up more of that delicious chili oil and even the cashews – not my favorite nut – were a welcome crunchy, sweet note. The portion is extremely generous and the flavor is well balanced. I really can’t say enough about it.

Mint Chocolate Cake Truffles

Not my favorite cake truffles, as they are a bit aggressive in the mint department, but still tasty enough to gobble down whole.

A lunch here will cost you about $20, but I am shocked to say that it’s worth it. The ingredients are high end, the food is really unexpected, and it is so tasty. I am craving those noodles as I write this and can’t think of another ramen in town that is more unique or better balanced in terms of flavor. Add to that excellent, fast service, and you have a restaurant that will absolutely last the test of time.

Actually, it already has. 

Kimchi Jigae at New Won Jo

When the craving for something salty, garlicky, spicy and filling hits, there’s only one thing to get:
Kimchi Jigae. 
This Korean stew is filled with that most cherished of pickles, kimchi, and comes with a variety of other ingredients. It is warming, filling, and spicy enough to make me cry. Though I’m sure the best place to eat this is your Korean mama’s house, I don’t have a Korean mama. So, I have decided to take matters into my own hands and simply try every Korean restaurant in K-Town to discover the best version. 
Next up: New Won-Jo

This Korean restaurant, open 24 hours, was hopping at noon on a weekend, and there was a 45 minute wait to sit upstairs where we could barbecue at our own table. Luckily, I was all about the stew, so I got seated immediately.

Banchan

Not as good as Don’s Bogam – more muted flavors, and less interesting. The potato salad was not as creamy, the kimchi was not as spicy, and I was not a fan of the dried eel – too smoky and not sweet enough. The exception to this was the stewed chicken and potatoes on the far right. It was sweet-savory-salty that tasted similar to pork kakuni. The chicken was tender but not mushy, and the potatoes were perfectly steamed, soft and creamy. Really, it was so addictive that I could have eaten this over steamed rice and called it a day.

Kimchi Jigae.

This was so, so good. Spicy, garlicky broth with slightly wilted kimchi, slivers of pork, soft tofu, chewy rice cakes, and slippery glass noodles. It came to the table bubbling hot, so intense that I burned my tongue at first sip. So worth it. Not sour or sweet at all, not really even tangy. Just incredibly deep, with the meatiness of the pork and the faint oceanic taste of the anchovies in the kimchi enriching the broth and making it substantial and round. It made my nose run and my brow sweat, but try as I might, I just couldn’t stop eating it. It was restorative, warming, exciting, and complex. There is nothing familiar about it and that is the best part – chicken soup for the Korean soul? What the hell was I doing with matzo balls all these years? 
Won Jo is a reliable spot for Kimchi Jigae. Be prepared to be rushed in and out, but the price is right, the servings are plentiful, and between that chicken banchan and the Kimchi Jigae, you will leave full and happy. The only question is: is this the best Kimchi Jigae in town? I will just have to continue my search and report back. 
It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
New Wonjo Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Ssam Bar Duck Dinner

Going to Momofuku Ssam Bar is kind of like going to your high school reunion. Even though you know what to expect and will see all the same old familiar faces, you still have expectations, want to look good and  go with friends.
And, chances are, you will get smashed and spend the whole night laughing and gossiping.
This time, I didn’t indulge in any libations, but my time was no less fantastic. Momofuku Ssam Bar is David Chang’s first restaurant in an empire that now spans nearly all of Manhattan. Though it has recently undergone somewhat of a rebirth, it is as delicious as ever, and as perfect for a night out with the girls or a first date. The long, high table in the middle provides most of the seating, though there are some tables in the dining room. Be warned that none of the bench seats have backs. Dark, with music blaring and hipsters serving, the atmosphere is somehow cool and not at all obnoxious like it would be elsewhere.
Steamed Pork Buns
The classic. Though they are no longer my favorite pork buns in town, they are nonetheless delicious. Soft, slightly sweet rice buns surrounding crisp cucumber, smoky gochujang and a thick slab of tender, melting pork that is slick with juice and enlivened by a dab of Sriracha. This is so decadent and rich that even half of one satisfied me.
Okay, I lied….I had a whole one.
BRT
These are the pork buns of the future. Deep fried pork, impossibly crisp on the outside, and almost creamy on the inside. It tasted like pork confit because it was so totally porky and decadent. Served with juicy tomatoes, tangy pickled radishes and a smoked mayonnaise, it was an innovative take on my favorite sandwich of all times. The smoked mayonnaise was the shocking star here – it made the pork sweeter,the tomatoes meatier and really contrasted well with the bright zing of Sriracha. This is a must for anyone who likes BLTs. It actually surpassed the pork buns as my favorite appetizer of the night.
Duck Dinner
This is why we came. Though Momofuku Ssam Bar has a strict no reservation policy, you sidestep that rule by pre-ordering one of their large format fests – fried chicken, a whole bo ssam, or  - the choice my girlfriends and I made – a whole roast duck, stuffed with pork sausage, served with confit duck on the side, herbs, garlic rice, and chive pancakes

Oh, and gochujang, hoisin and scallion-soy sauce. And  fried shallots and salt. And Bibb lettuce.

And Crispy Duck-Fat Potatoes, served with a smoky-spicy chile sauce that some thought was incendiary but I found more pleasantly warming.

And Braised Swiss Chard, soft but not mushy, in a pungent, salty fish sauce dressing enlivened by crisply fired shallots and a bracing amount of garlic.

It was a lot of food. We ate all of it, save for 4 slices of duck and a few grains of rice. That is how delicious it was. We ate a whole duck.
This is the best duck in NYC – it just is. Moist and juicy, with a mild, non-gamy flavor that is as satisfying as beef but as light as pork loin. The skin was crispy and crackled pleasantly underneath my knife. In between the skin and meat was a pearly layer of fat, glistening and succulent. The skin was lacquered with salty and sweet spices that I could not discern, nor did I want to. I couldn’t taste the sausage, to be honest, but that might be because I was too busy stuffing my face with the confited duck – all texture and pure duck flavor. That crunchy fried skin, bubbling up in cracklings that burst with deep flavor in my mouth. That
moist meat, so delicate and juicy that I couldn’t bear to cover its taste with any of the delicious sauces. I tore at this beast with my hands. I dunked the meat into the sweet and smoky hoisin, the gently spicy gochujang, that incredible soy-scallions sauce. I wrapped slices in crisp lettuce leaves, covered them in fragrant cilantro and folded them into warm, paratha-like chive pancakes with garlicky, sticky rice. I ate until I almost felt sick, and then I ate some more.
And then I felt sick.

And it was worth it. This meal, inclusive of everything except the appetizers, was $140 and could have easily fed 5 people. That would be about $35 per person for some totally incredible food. The service was great, the food was delicious, and the fact that we got a table while other people were shivering outside in the cold, clamoring to sit down….well,  who doesn’t love some schadenfreude? I like Momofuku Ssam Bar on its own, but this duck meal is the best bang for your buck for sure.

If only they were going to serve that roast duck at my high school reunion.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

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

Danji’s Korean French Fusion is a Hit!

Korean food has a special place in my heart. I love the strong flavors, the use of fermented vegetables and the fact that the culture emphasizes eating huge quantities of food with people you love.

I also love French food. I love the reverence that the French have for their food, the passion that French chefs have for their craft and the fact that French ingredients are either top of the line or simply not used.

You don’t see a lot of 1% milk in Paris, you know what I mean?

So…what do you get when you meld French technique and Korean ingredients?


Opened by Hooni Kim, who has worked at both Daniel and Masa, Danji is a diminutive Hell’s Kitchen restaurant that is easy to walk right past. Entering the tiny space, you are greeted with a bar, industrial-chic decor and several long communal tables, as well as more intimate tables in the back.



If you have any sense at all, you will start your meal with the Henry Varnay Blanc de Blanc Brut.



Bubbly, not too heady, crisp and light.

Move onto the trio of kimchi.



From the left:

Daikon. Crisp, slightly salty, umami filled and rich.
Cabbage. Crunchy, fishy, garlicky, spicy…all these things are EXTREME compliments and meant in the BEST way possible. This is one of the finest kimchis I have ever had.
Cucumber. Sweet, salty, mild. A bit too mild for me, but it was my mother’s favorite.

Spicy yellowtail sashimi with cho jang, jalapeño



Buttery, tender yellowtail that was both sweet and burst with the freshness of the sea. Wrapped around herbal and fragrant microgreens, swathed in a tangy sauce and topped with a jalapeno that just flashed some heat at the end, this was a raw fish preparation that would be welcome at the finest sushi restaurant in NYC.


Rock shrimp tempura with flying fish roe mayo.




This really isn’t the popcorn shrimp you get at Red Lobster. Think snappy bites of lobster – because this shrimp really did have the rich, buttery taste of lobster. Then coat that in light, crispy batter, eat it with a sprig of sweet licorice-y chervil and dip in in creamy mayonnaise tempered with the briny salinity of roe.

Oh, good, you are drooling.

Bulgogi filet mignon sliders with spicy pickled cucumber & scallion salsa




These are not too hot at all – really more spicy than fiery. Think ginger, aromatics and just a touch of heat. Think sweet, salty meaty flavors colliding with the pickled cucumber kimchi from the appetiser and a cilantro and scallion sauce cooling everything off and adding tangy and citrusy hits. Think a butter brushed bun in between a potato bun and a brioche.

Think how great it would be if it was bigger.

But then you might not have room for this:

Spicy pork belly sliders with scallions & kochujang




What I am about to say may get me in trouble with the foodie community.

These are now my favorite Asian sandwiches in NYC. Sorry Momofuku…your pork buns have been dethroned.

These were truly spicy. Lip tingling, tongue engaging spicy – not blister-causing hot, but spicy enough to make me sit up and respect it. The pork belly was thick, velvety and unctuous while somehow managing to have crunchy and caramelized bits of the meat. The scallions were a welcome vetetal note and the kochujang added that funky fermented note that makes Korean food so notable.

And those buns…

That’s what she said


Poached sablefish with spicy daikon.




I ordered this upon the recommendation of our extremely helpful and competent server. I had tried sablefish before, and found it to be tough, oily and overly fishy. I was not holding out any high hopes for this.

Sometimes I love being wrong.

This was the best cooked fish I have had quite some time. It had the same mild flavor and velvety texture as cod, but with the flakiness and slightly drier (read – less mucus like) mouthfeel as haddock. It was not oily or tough at ALL! It was so clean and easy to eat. In the sweet, salty, tangy miso-teriyaki type sauce, with the crisp and cabbage-y daikon, this dish was one of the favorites of the night. Simply perfect. 

Kimchi bacon fried ‘paella’ fried knoll krest farm egg.




Starchy, creamy short grain rice mixed with garlic, ginger and Korean sweet and spicy flavors. The rice is cooked with crispy, umami filled pork belly in a cast iron skillet so the rice develops a thick and crunchy crust that contrasts so well with the creamy top layer of rice. Top the whole affair with two fried eggs to add a yolky sauce to everything.

I know. It is like Christmas morning, isn’t it?

‘Danji’ braised short ribs with  fingerlings & pearl onions.




Our last dish, and perhaps the best example of the philosophy of this restaurant. A classic French dish, cooked in a french way, so the beef was soft and tender but not at all stringy, the potatoes were creamy, the onions were sweet, and the flavors were layered. Asian ingredients, like miso and ginger figured into the sauce so that there were herbaceous and spicy notes in there. This was not a French dish, not a Korean one. It was familiar yet entirely new. It was so totally…Danji.

And that’s what this place is. It is a cuisine and an entity all its own. The food is as refined as any I have ever had, yet the atmosphere is hip and relaxed. The portions are small and on the pricey side, but the flavors are hearty and huge. The ingredients are Korean, and the technique French.

The result is my new favorite Hell’s Kitchen restaurant.

And I bet it will be yours, too.



Danji on Urbanspoon

A Momofuku Thanksgiving

*we interrupt your regular road trip programming to bring you this vital update on a Momofuku Thanksgiving*

I’m not that big on turkey.  I like mashed potatoes, love stuffing, and go (lady)GAGA for canned cranberry sauce, but turkey…I’m kinda meh on it.  So we really don’t eat turkey for thanksgiving in my family, because…let’s face it…I’m the main chef and menu planner, so what I say goes  :)  Sometimes we had chicken, last year we had prime rib, and this year…well this year was a little something different…
My mom gifted me the Momofuku cookbook last year, and I have been dying to cook the Bo Ssam from it, but I don’t really have all that many occasions to by a 10 lb pork butt.  Enter Thanksgiving…and a Korean Celebration was born!!  We altered David Chang’s recipe slightly, but we took most of the instruction and all the inspiration straight from this awesome cookbook!  I really recommend getting it if you love to cook and love Korean food.  Nothing in there is complicated, just time consuming, and it makes for a HELL of a meal.
Now onto the PORK!
First you have to trim the excess fat off your pork butt with a VERY sharp blade…I let Marmie do this because, quite frankly, I am accident prone.
You want to slice almost all the fat off-trust me, there is enough fat running throughout to keep the meat juicy and flavorful.  You definitely want to slice the fat cap off.  But for heaven’s sake, DON’T THROW IT AWAY! Render it slowly and use it later for potatoes, grilled cheese, chocolate cake…WHATEVER!

Now you want to add a half cup of kosher salt (he said a cup but that would have been WAY too salty, imo)
a cup of sugar, and a quarter cup of brown sugar.  Then cover that meat and let it marinate in the fridge overnight.  The next morning, plop it in a 350 degree oven for about 7 hours (for a 10 lb butt).

It’s lookin good, I tell ya!  And the smell is so incredibly drool-inducing that I had to stop myself from diving in then and there and tearing this pork limb from limb.
During the last 10 minutes, pack a bunch of brown sugar on the top…we just guessed how much…it the top crust into what Chang appropriately calls “pig candy”.

The scent of sugar and pork makes me euphoric (yes i am wearing hairnet…we didn’t want any hair falling in the food while we cooked…and i’m bringing sexy back).
Do we even need a caption here?  This is the kind of view that…if you were blind, it would be an act of empathy to describe this hunk of sizzling, sticky, sweet, salty, maple brown, juicy, falling apart, luscious meat to you.  It’s really that beautiful.
Fork tender and laden with moisture.
And it tasted…(yeah I took my hairnet and green grandma shirt off for this pic)…

well, it tasted like that.  This pork could not be easier to make or more delicious if Chang had cooked it for us himself.  It did not even taste Korean on it’s own-it would be equally at home with roast potatoes, coleslaw, and-yes-kimchi.  Seriously outstanding.
Another beauty shot.  Because…why not?

There is my lovely gloved hand mixing miso paste and butter to put into our miso corn.
When the corn (We used frozen) starts to make popping sounds and gets a little charred, time to swoop into action.
time to mix in broth, onions, scallions, black pepper, and that miso butter.  And bacon if there are no vegetarians at your table.  
My patented cucumber salad.
Fixings for the corn and sprouts-yes there was more pork, any other questions???
Roasted Baby Brussels Sprouts-slightly crunchy outside, creamy and nutty inside.  Drizzled with hot sesame oil, they were really divine.

Pureed kimchi for a hit of spicy, salty, briny tastes on the pork, Brussels sprouts, rice, and/or all of the above.

Steamed mantou-Chinese rice buns.  These are the things that char siu bao are made of.  Slightly sweet, slightly sticky, glutinous, and delicious-they made for a heck of an Asian pulled pork sandwich.

That miso corn-buttery, sweet, salty, biting with the addition of those scallions, a total umami bomb.  Everyone loved this.  Well, everyone who got some…I may have hidden some of it in the fridge before I served it…
And a fridge packed with leftovers for a midnight Korean pork sandwich.  Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
*We apologize for this interruption.  Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming*

Bon Chon on John

Say THAT five times fast!

 

Bon Chon is a Korean restaurant chain that has recently opened outposts in NYC.  It specializes in fried chicken.  Korean Fried Chicken-gives KFC a whole new meaning, hey?

I crack myself up.

 

ANYWAY…Korean Fried Chicken is not like traditional American fried chicken in the south.  It is coated in a thick batter and served with waffles, but rather fried twice and dipped in a soy-garlic, slightly spicy sauce.

This Bon Chon location is casual but very nicely appointed, with dark wooden chairs and tables…

And a bar with shochu and beer along the side of the restaurant. There is a 4-8 pm happy hour deal every day of the week.  Booze AND spicy fried chicken?  Be still my HEART!

And acclaims from Esquire and the New York Times line the wall.  What more could you want?

Except the return of the tv series Avonlea.  You might want that.

Lunch specials come in small, medium, and large sizes, and you can get spicy or mild wings, drumsticks, all white meat, or chicken strips.

Once we ordered from the counter at the back, and got our cans of Diet Coke, we waited for about 10 minutes until we recieved…

Our chicken!! Don’t they look like Korean happy meals?

Once we opened the cartons, the smell of soy, chilis, and garlic wafted up towards us.

And then I took a bite.

Sticky. Sweet. Spicy.  Succulent.  Any other delicious ”S” words you can think of probably apply here.  The skin was LITERALLY the most delicious chicken skin I had ever tried.  It was so crispy and well fried that there was an air pocket in between the skin and the meat. As a result from the high frying temperature, the chicken was (shockingly!) utterly greaseless!  The sauce was sweet and spicy, like the most delicious chili sauce in the world.  It was not mouth searing, just gently tingling on the lips.  The strips were coated in the same sauce minus the heat-the sauce tasted of  herbaceous ginger, salty soy, caramelized sugar, and pungent garlic.  Can they make me a perfume like that, please? The chicken itself was moist and fell easily away from the bone.

For my side I got the kimchi coleslaw.  It was basically your everyday, mayonnaise based coleslaw with a little kimchi marinade poured in.  I was disappointed with it-I was looking forward to a super garlicky, vinegar based slaw.  But I still ate it.  Because-need I remind you?  I am a pig

Fries.  Medium thickness, freshly fried, salty and crispy, these babies were a NATURAL match for the chicken.  Fried and Fried…it sounds like the beginning of a love sonnet…

This is what our tray looked like at the end of the meal.

Gee, ya think we liked it?

Well, we LOVED it!  We both got the small meals, and with one side each and 3 drumsticks or 6 chicken tenders, plus a soda each, the total was under $18.  The restaurant was nice enough to go to with friends, and casual enough that we could sit there sopping wet and not feel out of place!  The staff was quick and courteous, the price was right, and the food was SENSATIONAL. I can’t WAIT to go back for the happy hour special, and this time…I’m getting the large!

Bonchon Chicken on Urbanspoon

Chino-Latino Quesadillas

Recipe time!!!   All I ask is that you not be a whiny little girl about it.  Just TRY it.  there are a few things that may seem a little scary to you, and we will go through those now:

KIMCHEE



Kimchee is a fermented vegetable dish that is pretty much the national food of Korea.  Now before you get all weird about it-have you ever had sauerkraut on a hot dog?  or enjoyed the cold crunch of a Claussen pickle straight from the jar?  Then you have had something related to kimchee!  I mean WINE is fermented-and if you haven’t had that, please comment on the bottom of the page and I will send you a bottle STAT.  Unless you are underage.  Then I will send you two bottles 


(I joke, I joke). Fermentation is just a way to pickle and preserve the vegetable, and kimchee has varieties that come with cucumbers, daikon, radish, and all other sorts of veggies.  The most common one, however, and the one that I love, is cabbage.  There are a thousand varieties of kimchee out there-you will just have to try them out to see what you like.  I love this brand that you can get at www.mitsuwa.com, in Edgewater, NJ.   

                                 


But any big grocery store or certainly any Asian grocery store should carry it. All kimchee uses stuff like ginger, soy, green onions, and chili paste.  Bottom line-if you like pickles and/or slightly spicy Asian cuisine, you should like kimchee.


Most varieties are spicy.  Some are blow the roof off your head hot, some are just mildly warm.  But a little goes a long way.  You can use this condiment in fried rice, omelets, Asian inspired stir fry, or as a topping for a sandwich.  And when you finish the kimchee-SAVE THE JUICE AT THE BOTTOM!  You can use it to flavor marinades or salad dressings-it would be perfect to make an asian buffalo wing sauce.  The funkiness of the kimchee would go well with the aged blue cheese dressing you serve alongside wings…I see this recipe in my future…I hope this doesn’t mean I have to watch a sports game to enjoy hot wings…yeah I’m that girl who doesn’t watch sports-so sue me.


CUCUMBER SALAD:

This is WITHOUT A DOUBT my most requested recipe by family, friends and pupils.  Not gonna lie, it’s basically amazing.  What you need-in descending order of proportion- are:

sliced cucumbers

cilantro (washed, only the leaves-pick them off the stems)

*optional*tomatoes, bell peppers, scallions, onions

rice wine vinegar

*optional* ponzu sauce

soy sauce

pickled ginger(from the asian section of your grocery store-chop it)

sugar (white or brown works, if you have superfine that is even better)

sambal or sriracha (or you dont need any if you don’t like spice…but i am judging you)

sesame oil



You see that I didn’t give measurements for the ingredients.  That’s cause I don’t cook like that-and really, neither should you.  Baking is a science, and must be done with precision, but cooking is an art.   It’s interpretive and deeply personal, so every person’s version SHOULD be  a little different.  Don’t get me wrong, a recipe is a wonderful jumping off point for a first time endeavor.  But with something like this, where there isn’t even any cooking involved-meh!  wing it!  taste as you go!  if it’s too salty-add some chili!  if it’s too sweet-add some more vinegar!  You can’t screw it up-i PROMISE–Girl Scout’s Honor!


Now, just combine the ingredients as they are written in the list, in descending order of proportion- i.e. you want mostly veggies and vinegar, then soy, and so on and so forth until you use only a splash or two of sesame oil-it is very potent stuff!


When you are done mixing together all the ingredients in a huge bowl, and it tastes to your liking, let the salad marinate for a couple of hours in your fridge.  This is what mine looks like, but it’s a couple days old and almost gone:


Still delicious.


Ok now that we are done with that shtuff, here is the recipe for my AWESOME chino latino quesadilla



2 tortillas (i prefer flour, but use corn if you must)

grated cheese (This is sharp cheddar, but a manchego, fontina, or jack cheese will also work well-basically anything with some sort of bite and a good melt factor)

kimchee

cucumber salad

salsa (this is katchkie farms salsa verde, but use whichever kind you like)

guacamole(or just tomatoes, onion, and avocado kinda mushed up)


Now you are going to put a skillet on the flame, medium high, nothing in the pan



Put your first tortilla down

when it starts to bubble, you are going to check it.  If it is nice and brown, or even a little charred in some spots, that’s perfect.  Flip it and put on your grated cheese and the kimchee


now put the other tortilla on top




After maybe a minute, or when the cheese starts to melt, check underneath the bottom tortilla with a spatula.  It should be hot and feel a little crispy.  When it does, put your hand over the top of the quesadilla and the spatula under the bottom and carefully flip the whole thing.




now you just want to wait for the cheese to melt-then it’s done!  at this point, you may choose to put the burner to medium low so you don’t burn the bottom tortilla.



Take that baby out when the cheese is gooey and the tortillas are crispy, and serve it with the cuke salad, guac, and salsa.  And there you have it!  My Chino-Latino Quesadilla!  


*In the interest of being honest, this is of course NOT my quesadilla.  After reviewing the picture I took, I decided it looked like crap, even though it tasted fabulous.  So yeah…thanks go to the  Food Network for this picture! *


This meal is a perfect symphony of velvety, spicy, sweet, crispy, and refreshing.  It is quick to make, a little unusual, and totally satisfying. So make it…unless you don’t think it will taste good…in which case-make it anyway and give it to ME!!!