Tag Archives: korean barbecue

Dō Hwa

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A while-while back, I complained that it’d been far too long since I’d “gorged myself on Korean barbecue” before launching into a write-up of Gunbae, a nut-free (but rather disappointing) KBBQ spot that’s kinda-sorta in my neighborhood. I gave Gunbae two shots before giving up on it entirely—and then I sort of forgot about KBBQ for a while. That is, until Dō Hwa reappeared on my radar.

I’ve mentioned before that I used to be a lot less careful. I’d eat whatever from wherever, and when I had the occasional reaction, I’d usually just shut my mouth and deal with it. But allergic reactions are horrifying, and the anxiety that comes with the threat of one (to me, an Anxious) is even worse. I mean, how can you enjoy a meal if you’re spending the whole time hyper-aware of each and every sensation that might almost feel something like a swelling lip or an itchy mouth? It’s an appetite-killer.

So—long, long, long story short—I’m more careful now. And while that’s undoubtedly a good thing, it’s left me in the rather strange situation of having all these ex-lover restaurants that I used to adore but that I wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable eating at today. In fact, the vast majority of the restaurants I liked as a (younger) kid don’t make today’s comfort-cut.

But! Dō Hwa does. There are indeed (pine) nuts on the menu, but they’re only used as a garnish on one of the salads, and I’ve been told (by more than one super-helpful, super-friendly, super-competent Dō Hwa employee) that those pine nuts shouldn’t really have any chance to come into accidental contact with anything else in the kitchen. So that’s a “100% comfortable” from me, then. [As for peanuts, though—which, again, I’m not allergic to—Dō Hwa does sometimes use them in one of their side dishes (the anchovies), so do beware.]

A plate of

The first time I went (back), I ended up at a grill-less table, which sucked approximately 93% of the fun out of the Dō Hwa experience. I mean, picture it: You’re stuck at your sorry, fire-unequipped table for two. You’ve no flames to play with, no raw meat to undercook. Without so little to do, you can’t help but glance at the grill-manning parties around you. Parties, indeed—everyone’s got heaps of raw meat; everyone’s poking and prodding at a grill; everyone’s plopping piece after piece of searing-hot BBQ onto leaf after leaf of lettuce. They are having fun. You are looking on. Grillers point their tongs and laugh, their mouths full of half-chewed bulgogi. It’s just like grade school.

Fortunately, you can ensure a grill-equipped table. Just let whoever’s taking your reservation know you’re absolutely, positively about that DIY life—not in those words, please—and you’ll be good to go. (But do be sure to speak up if it’s a grill-equipped table you’re after. The guy who took my first reservation didn’t ask, and I’d just assumed that Dō Hwa didn’t have any grill-less tables. Wrong I was, though.)

Anyway. Before I get to the real fun, I should probably spend some time on Dō Hwa’s other offerings. Pretty much every Korean restaurant presents each and every diner with a whole bunch of complimentary sides—banchan, they’re called—and while I’m usually not the biggest fan of such things, I don’t mind Dō Hwa’s in the slightest. (I don’t know why I’m so small on banchan; probably, it has to do with my food allergies and my subsequent aversion to being ambushed with a whole bunch of sometimes-tough-to-identify foods. But I’m not so big on the usual dishes themselves, either.) There’s one that I’ll often avoid—those aforementioned anchovies that sometimes come with a handful of likely-cross-contaminated peanuts—but I’m comfortable with everything else, and it all tastes pretty good, too. Even the kimchi…which is one of those foods I usually can’t stand.

As for appetizers, Dō Hwa’s are pretty standard—and I mean that as a good thing. The pan-fried beef dumplings (pictured immediately above) are tasty, though a bit boring, and I’m told the d’ukboki (rice cakes in chili sauce) are particularly good, too. But me, I’m really into the kimchi pajun (that’s a kimchi-scallion pancake)—which tastes a whole lot more of scallion than it does of kimchi, thank God. It’s ridiculously thin, with appropriately crispy edges and a soft-ish center, and (as if I haven’t already said this exact phrase way too many times) it’s just greasy enough to have me hooked.

A pile of (raw) bulgogi from Do Hwa

Now. Meat.

Pictured immediately above is a serving of Dō Hwa’s bulgogi, which happens to be my favorite of their meats. At $29, it isn’t cheap, but it isn’t a small portion, either—and it’s just about perfect, if you ask me. The marinade is sweet, but it’s (fortunately!) not too sweet, and there’s just enough of it, too. Do a half-decent job cooking the meat (really, it isn’t hard) and it’ll be ridiculously juicy and oh-so-tender—and, it’s particularly good in the lettuce wraps. Not only is there nothing wrong with this stuff, but it’s precisely what I’m looking for when I’m craving KBBQ.

I also like the seng kalbi, which are boneless beef short ribs, sans marinade. What they lack in flavor, they make up for in texture, and between bites of whatever else, they’re particularly good. Calming, even. One meat I don’t love, though, is the sam ghup sal: thick-cut pork belly that just might be a little too thick-cut for me. It takes forever on the grill, it has little flavor of its own, and I’m not entirely sure it’s possible to cook this stuff through without drying it out. So…no more sam ghup sal for me, I guess.

And just as a side note: The best part, I think, of grilling your own meat (aside from all the fucking-around you get to do) is the fact that no matter how slowly you go, everything you get around to eating will be piping hot. With how quickly I eat, I wouldn’t expect that to make much of a difference—it’s not as if much time ever passes between a dish’s leaving the kitchen and its ending up wholly in my stomach—but (at Dō Hwa, at least) the immediacy does make a difference, and that difference does go a long way.

…You deserve another grill photo, don’t you? Here’s some bulgogi and some sam ghup sal,  alongside some mushrooms, onions, and rice cakes:

Bulgogi, sam gup sal, onions, mushrooms, and rice cakes on the grill at Dō Hwa

Overall, I really do love this place. Beyond scratching my KBBQ itch, Dō Hwa is incredibly allergy friendly—and if you don’t mind the dark and the loud, it’s a pretty pleasant place to be, too. My only gripe, really, is that even when I’ve made a reservation, they can’t seem to seat me within 10 minutes of my walking through the door. Usually, I’ll end up having to spend around 15 pre-table minutes at the bar—but it’s not so bad, really. There is food at the bar, after all.

Find Dō Hwa at 55 Carmine Street, between Bedford Street and 7th Avenue South.

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Gunbae Tribeca

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A few weeks ago, I decided that it’s been way, way too long since I’ve gorged myself on Korean barbecue, and that my dry streak needed to end as soon as I could (safely) manage. Immediately, it became an urgent matter—and so commenced a long evening of Googling, menu-reading, and emailing. I must’ve gone through 30 menus and sent out 10 or 15 emails, all to receive only one (yes, one) reply.

That reply was from Gunbae, a year-old restaurant which happens to be within walking distance of my apartment. It was a short email, and it certainly didn’t address all of my questions, but it told me what I wanted to hear: “We don’t have any nuts in our menu. And we use Sesame oil for some sauce and sesame seed for topping the food.” As far as I can tell, though, Gunbae isn’t the type of restaurant that ensures its ingredients are all free from cross-contamination—so I’ve categorized them as “technically not nut-free.” Still, no nuts in the kitchen is usually good enough for me, so I decided to Gunbae a try.

I brought my mom and my boyfriend along for the ride, because, well, who doesn’t love Korean barbecue? To start, we ordered the seafood pancake, and our server brought out a number of side dishes, too: steamed egg, kimchi, lotus root, seasoned broccoli, and…macaroni salad? Sure. And when it came time to barbecue, we decided on the wagyu kalbi (which is a boneless short rib) and the yang nyum kalbi (another boneless short rib, pictured below).

Gunbae's yang nyum kalbi, cooking on the grill

The seafood pancake and the sides came out immediately after we ordered. I didn’t get around to trying most of the sides—Sam and my mom took care of those—but I did try the egg (pictured at the top of this post), and I was glad I did. Our server had put a pot of something on our table’s burner when he brought out the rest of the sides, and honestly, none of us had any idea what it was until he came back to stir it and we got the chance to ask. He told us it was a Korean egg dish and encouraged us to just try it as he spooned it into our plates—and so we did. It was really tasty: light, fluffy, and sweet, with a distinct sesame flavor.

Next was the seafood pancake, which was probably my favorite dish of the night. It was wonderfully crispy, but the real draw was how absolutely packed it was with seafood. The squid was perfectly cooked—chewy, but not unpleasantly so—and even the scallops had a lovely texture. (I’m a scallop-hater. I’m sorry.) We lost the dipping sauce in all the hubbub—there must have been 15 plates on our table—but even without it, the pancake was delightful.

But onto the real reason we’d come: the meat. First came the wagyu, at a frightening $44.95 for 5 small pieces. (I couldn’t get a picture, but it looked a whole lot like this.) Our server cooked it for us—he didn’t give us the option to do it ourselves—and it wasn’t bad at all, but it certainly wasn’t as flavorful as I’d have liked. We ate it rare, and it was well-cooked and tender, but the flavor (or lack thereof) left us all wanting. So in the hopes of finding something tastier, we ordered a marinated cut of beef: the yang nyum kalbi (pictured at the top of this post).

Again, it was well-cooked, and the texture was great, but the flavor wasn’t all I’d hoped for. It tasted like a slightly better version of the Bool Kogi from Trader Joe’s—which isn’t quite a compliment. The most accurate word I can apply to the marinade is “vague”; it was vaguely garlicky, vaguely sweet, vaguely…vague, without any of that strong, pointed flavor I’ve come to expect of Korean barbecue. In all, I was pretty disappointed.

Still, it’s not as if I’ll never go back. The egg was good, the pancake was great, and I’m already eyeing a few dishes I’d like to try: the fried pork dumplings, the wagyu kimchi fried rice, and the mandu guk (a hot pot with beef broth, pork dumplings, scallion, and egg). Unfortunately, though, my search for Korean barbecue that’s both safe and good is not over.

Find Gunbae at 67 Murray Street, just off of West Broadway. (Oh, and there are private karaoke rooms downstairs, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

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