- Restaurant Kunjip
- Cuisine Korean
- Location 9 W. 32nd St. (btwn 5th Avenue & Broadway), Manhattan
- Phone 212-216-9487
- Directions Hopstop
- Atmosphere bustling, bright
- Attire casual
- Ideal for small-mid sized groups, 1x1, introductory Korean meal
- Price moderate
When it comes to Korean food, I guess you could call me a late bloomer. "Late," as in having gone 31 long years as a Korean food virgin. Luckily, that all changed last week when I finally got "deflowered." CY, one of my best friends in NYC - and a Korean-American, to boot - organized a group dinner at uber-popular Korea town restaurant, Kunjip, in honor of this momentous occasion. After all, shouldn't everyone celebrate handing in their V-card?
If you've ever walked the stretch of 32nd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, then a) you're at least somewhat familiar with Manhattan's own "Little Seoul," or b) you may not have known what you were passing through, but you distinctly remember its uniqueness, crowds, and authenticity. As for me? Well, 32nd Street happens to be in my own neck of the woods - located merely blocks from my apartment. Other than making a handful of bakery-item and bubble tea pilgrimages, Korea town had largely remained foreign territory. Until now...
*Note* Apologies, in advance, for not detailing each dish at nauseum. Out of respect to the cuisine, I do not want to incorrectly coin an ingredient. However, each picture speaks 1000 glorious and beautiful words. Enjoy!
After spending about 20-minutes in line - outside - our party of 6 was hurriedly escorted inside and seated. A pile of menus were plopped in to the center of the table and, before the frantic employee could step away, CY made sure to order 3 bottles of soju (a distilled rice beverage similar to vodka). In Korean.
The soju arrived with shot glasses, which CY generously topped before orchestrating a "cheers" on my behalf. "To Lindsay's first time! Ay ay!" Clink. Clink.
Moments after all of our shot glasses clinked, we were serenaded by "banchan," which are plates of various small side dishes (at Kunjip, banchan is gratis with the meal).
This meal had me at "banchan." I found each of the dishes to be extraordinarily flavorful, healthy, and positively unique to my more "vanilla" Western palate. Personal favorites included the kimchi and the cucumbers.
In terms of appetizers and entrees, we let CY order for the table, as we planned to eat "family style."
Man Doo Gui
I've never met a dumpling I didn't like. This version? I loved. Filled with finely-chopped vegetables and pork, it was the man doo's exterior that particularly sang to me. What was the secret batter or ingredient in the dough that made the crust on these savory delights so light and crunchy? I mean, come on, have you ever seen something so golden, bubbly and crispy? Neither had I.
A rich and spicy, thick chili-pepper broth was pregnant with strips of sweet, thin fish cakes, rice cakes, glass noodles, a boiled egg (!), and vegetables.
Seriously, I must have looked like a ravenous chick who had just finished a juice cleanse - finally able to eat whole foods for the first time in 10 days! I simply could not get enough of this stew. It was like, helping after helping, I fell deeper in love.
...I especially enjoyed spooning the Dduk Boki's rich broth atop this purple-tinged sticky rice (I believe the rice is purple because of the bean bits that it's cooked with).
I had always heard of "Korean BBQ" and, having only had Japanese BBQ, assumed that it would be us, the diner(s), who would be grilling. Perhaps this is commonplace at other establishments, but Kunjip does all of the dirty work for you (...cooking pork belly, with all of that grease spattering about, is dirty work!). And I am just fine with not having to cook my own restaurant meal, thank you very much.
While the beef short ribs were prepared and plated in the kitchen, the pork belly was grilled right in front of us! Fresh lettuce cups accompanied for optional ssam (wrap) construction.
Yook Gae Jang
A very spicy, red broth was chock-full of green onions, mushrooms, clumps of scrambled egg, and very thinly-sliced strips of beef.
Kimchi Fried Rice
Using the same grill and pan drippings from the pork belly, white rice and kimchi were combined and prepared for us tableside. Each bite rendered a smoky, pork/bacon essence that was subtly outshined by the fragrant flavor and texture of the kimchi.
*Note* We did order a couple of other dishes but, as embarrassing as this is to admit out loud, I was too entrenched in food inhilation to put my chopsticks down and snap their respective photos. Including one of my favorite appetizer, the kimchi pancake.
To conclude: first and foremost, I'd like to thank my dear friend, CY, for arranging this fabulous meal and making me feel so special. I had no idea what to expect, really, in terms of Korean cuisine. Would I like it? What if I hated it? Sure, I had heard of of the usual suspects - "kimchi," for example - and had even tasted bibimbap when I ordered a Korean catered lunch (from Kunjip, in fact!) per the request of my former coworker, Fred Yoon. But it wasn't until recently that I really wanted to give it another shot. An authentic one, at that. None of this bibimbap mumbo-jumbo!
To be honest, I didn't like Korean food. Actually, I loved it! The vegetables - the colored rice - the stews. Everything. As a young adult, Korean cuisine just seems so balanced and healthy when compared to the foods that I grew up on - mostly white in color and processed. Perhaps this is why I am always so impressed at how CY incorporates vegetables in to nearly every meal that she cooks and orders at restaurants. I need to follow suit and be more mindful of the foods that I put in to my body.
I look forward to learning more about and exploring this cuisine further.
Post dinner, four of us chose to continue the celebratory Korean festivities by partaking in an hour's worth of karaoke and imbibing at MK Karaoke (located just a door or two down from Kunjip). I haven't had this much fun screaming singing my lungs out and laughing hysterically since summer camp. Oh, what a night!
Until we eat again,
The Lunch Belle