This is what a table for two often looked like when Sabrina and I ate out in college. Nowadays, it’s usually less than half of what’s pictured.
Yesterday, Sabrina and I checked out Arang, this Korean-Japanese fusion restaurant in the heart of Ktown. It’s located on the second floor, next to the high profile Keun-Jip, but distinguishes itself in its playfully painted door frame with those saturated colors that even Andy Warhol would appreciate. The interior is completely different from the outside; inside, wood is the prominent choice of material, and the earthy tones along with the hanging art from both the ceiling and the walls almost remind me of Africa (although clearly, not).
We arrived at around noon on a Saturday and the place was empty, but by the time the food came out, there were four more parties that were already seated. We were told that the dduk boki is the dish to order by Sunny (the daughter of the owner). Supposedly, something like 85% of tables end up ordering it and if you saw it/had it, you’d understand why. It’s like the Korean version of a lasagna, with melted mozzarella and cheddar that just comes oozing out of this sizzling stone plate. It smells like heaven on a plate. If I hadn’t believed Sunny’s testimonial then about the dish, I would have, had I gone onto yelp prior to. Just about every review raves about the dish and how it’s in a league of its own because no other restaurant in Ktown has it.
Ojinguh dduk boki with cheese with Nalchi Al Bap (serves 2 people): Sauteed pickled cabbage, spicy pork, and rice cakes with melted mozzarella and cheddar cheese served with rice with caviar, sesame leaves, roasted seaweed, chopped Kimchi, and sesame oil ($19.95). Whew
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Crap, that looks delicious with all that bubbling cheese. But $19.95?! Isn’t that a bit pricey?
First, let me just start off by saying that this was taken with a 50mm lens so the stone plate is actually a bit bigger than it may seem. Second, I couldn’t really photograph the depth of the dish. I’d reckon its about an inch deep? An inch deep probably doesn’t seem like much, but the thing is completely filled with the rice cakes, pork, kimchi, and jalapeno. Third, it comes with rice, so even if you manage to polish off the whole thing, you get to mix the rice into the sauce. I wish the stone was still sizzling when we finally mixed in the rice because the rice would have crispened in all that spicy sauce.
So overall, worth it? Definitely. Especially since I think you can even stretch it to sharing it amongst three people, especially with the rice.
And that’s the rice right there. The sesame oil on the bottom of the rice really does give it more depth than the usual plain white rice. We also learned that shiso leaves are sesame leaves! I think I might start oiling the bottom of my rice at home with sesame oil going forward…
I got a bit too excited there. I almost forgot about the traditional side dishes served in the beginning at all Korean restaurants. Arang served four “banchan” dishes including potato salad, pickled cabbage, radish with pepper, and pickled cucumbers (or was that zuchini?). My favorite was the potato salad.
Then came out the sushi. On Sundays to Thursdays from 4pm to 10pm, they have their “happy hour” sushi’s where you can get certain sushi pieces for $1, $2, or $3. Notice the word piece. It’s actually really Nigiri because it’s raw fish on top of a ball of rice (the usual term sushi refers to the Makisushi, which is the sushi you see at Japanese restaurants that’s rolled up in seaweed with other ingredients besides raw fish).
At $1, it’s a bit pricey, even if it is Nigiri, and I think the couple of dollars that you’d spend on the Nigiri could be put towards better use on other items on the menu.
Arang Specialty Roll ($7.95)
Above is kimbap, which upon first glance may look like the Japanese sushi, but is actually different since the rice used is seasoned with sesame oil instead of vinegar. I remember the first time I had kimbap. It was in Australia, where I tutored English after uni. This Korean girl brought in this large roll and you could actually smell it (unlike sushi).
What I love about kimbap is the use of egg. Whereas sushi is normally more a “high class” food, kimbap is like a light snack, something you’d bring to a picnic. If you’ve never had kimbap, I’d recommend getting a roll instead of sushi, just to try it out.
Mmm, ramen. The ramen itself wasn’t anything special- sorta like the Shin ramen I have at home, but the addition of the seafood was really good. I’m not a shellfish type of person, but I really liked the mussels in this dish. I still haven’t warmed up to octopus; the chewy texture really gets to me. Anyway, this dish really is spicy, in a way that makes your mouth break out a sweat and searching for water. But it’s a good type of spicy, if you can handle it.
Just make sure you spoon out the ramen if you’re splitting it or else it’ll get soggy. They have these cute shell-like bowls that we ate the ramen in.
Okay, so what exactly is this dduk boki and besdies the melted cheese, what makes it so great? According to translator Jlee, Dduk is a rice cake, although not the usual Quaker rice cakes that we Americans are used to. It reminds me of the nian-gao that the Chinese have and so I guess the most accurate description of dduk is a rice dumpling. Bokki is the method used to cook the dish.
The rice cakes come submerged in the spicy sauce and the bottoms are slightly crisped by the heat from the stone plane. The pieces of pork are succulent and sweet, almost like the marinated pork from Korean BBQ. There’s slices of jalapeno, which really give those bites a kick, but seriously, the cheese. Oh man, I’m salivating just from thinking about that cheese.
Sabrina and I already were full after finishing the nigiri, ramen, and one-third of the dduk boki, but there was still the rice! So Sabrina started mixing it in spoonfuls until Sunny came by and just mixed the whole entire thing in. By then, the plate was already cold; otherwise it would have been like dolsup bibimbap. But it was still delicious and made for great leftovers, which I look forward to tomorrow at work.
Overall, I’d definitely come back for the dduk boki, probably late night. A friend said that Arang is a great place for late night eating/drinking, especially when you’ve been out and are just craving something greasy and fullfilling. There’s a good number of long benches especially for those groups of 6+ people for some good eats, good laughs, and just good company. The afternoon lunch prices run until 6pm, so you may be able to catch the cheap eats at an early dinner.
9 W 32nd St
(between 5th Ave & Broadway)
New York, NY 10001
Photo du jour: “The morning after” (story behind the photo on flickr)