Saturday, January 26, 2008

New York Turns To Korea: From Bi Bim Bop to a Huge Spa

AS extravagant real-estate costs and gentrification do away with most of Manhattan’s ethnic neighborhoods outside Chinatown, the valuable commercial strip of West 32nd Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway remains firmly, surprisingly, overwhelmingly Korean. It is here that many New Yorkers and visitors first taste kimchi (spicy fermented vegetables), bulgogi (thinly sliced marinated beef) and bi bim bop (Google it), and here that Koreans and Korean-Americans gather for parties and social events.
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Many will say you haven’t experienced Korean New York without a trip to Flushing, Queens, but you can easily fill a weekend without leaving Manhattan. Among the culinary choices on and near West 32nd Street, Kunjip is your standard Koreatown restaurant, offering generous portions of do-it-yourself barbecue, other traditional Korean dishes and several brands of soju, the clear Korean liquor. Across the street, Woorijip is an informal, by-the-pound Korean buffet that also stocks Korean snacks like spicy shrimp crackers and sweet rice drinks, good for a quick lunch or bargain dinner; Korean-style fried chicken — with a full bar — is available at the largely hidden, chic gathering place Bon Chon chicken.

At the upscale vegetarian spot HanGawi, which back in the day got two stars from Ruth Reichl when she was restaurant critic for The Times, you remove your shoes as you would in a Korean home; it features rice bowls and hot pots with a stress on ingredients like mushrooms and tofu, and reasonably priced prix fixe menus take the stress out of choosing. (There are plenty of other upscale Korean spots elsewhere, such as Woo Lae Oak in SoHo.)



NVDL: Of late I have been missing Korean food 0 spicy - a lot. Especially the barbecue-do-it-yourself meals (with bulgogi) would be a huge hit with South Africans. Anyone want to start a Korean restaurant with me?

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