Don Bogam ~ Orderinny

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Don Bogam

I remember the day korean barbeque entered my life. It was a cold fall night in 2001, my college friends and I had a car at our disposal, for some reason I can no longer remember, and someone suggested we make the northward trek to the part of Chicago that housed many good Korean restaurants for something different. We complied, piled on the car and reached this standalone 24 hour shack that was sitting squarely across from a funeral home. We walked into the restaurant, bundled up in our woolen sweaters, for it was cold, and entered into a haze of smoke, smells and general cacophony. We left sated from the copious amounts of chewy kalbi, numerous small plates of banchan and with the garlic and soy scent stuck to our sweaters for the next week. From that moment on, my was I hooked and thank God K-town in New York is only 15 blocks away from home.
It wasn’t that difficult for me to like Korean food. I had grown up tasting soy sauce, dried shrimp, hot peppers and the other common Asian condiments that made up a Chinese or Korean meal. But many of my friends that went with me to Don’s Bogam did not grow up eating those foods and Korean bbq was a novel thing. Luckily, barbeque is not a foreign concept and people jumped on the opportunity to watch their own food cook.
Don’s Bogam, with its honeycombed window design and sleek white bar is very modern, and familiar to the new Korean diner. Kneeling during dinnertime can be an excruciating exercise, especially for those not used to it, so we sigh a breathe of relief upon finding out that the squat tables in the dining room were really faux squat tables with big holes beneath to allow diners to rest their feet in. Also absent on its walls were slips of writings in hangul that are common fixtures in restaurants catering to the native eater. This calms the non-Koreans diners, who may feel alienated otherwise, obsessing about potentially missing out on a particularly tasty special or that the paper was in fact a health warning that was concealed to them. Even more calming is the presence of Korean friends in the midst, who took charge of the ordering situation so all we needed to do was smile at the servers, raise our hands when we needed more OB beer (uncannily like a Bud in terms of bottle design), lift our chopsticks and dig in.
Our group of 10 ate heartily on surprisingly fresh and sweet seafood lightly grilled on the table, and different cuts of beef, both marinated and sauce-free. Being a flavor freak, I preferred the heavily sauced ones (yes I ought to be shot). Still, the chicken bbq at Shilla beat the beef cuts at Don’s Bogam by a long shot. We also had an order of bulgogi, thinly sliced beef cooked with vegetables, a lot of onions and garlic and a sweet sauce. The only disappointment for me was the jap chae, which like most restaurant cooked jap chae was a sweet sloppy mess. The restaurant served a variety of banchan, and it was interesting inducting new eaters into the delights of fish cake (or fish sausage as we like to call it), multiple types of kimchi and the spicy dried shrimp that unsurprisingly made some flinch. Oh well, a few more meals and we’ll have them down the tiny shrimp like the rest of us.
We rolled out of the restaurant reeking of smoke and garlic despite ominous warnings not to wear wool. But what can’t a little dry cleaning do?

Don’s Bogam
17 E 32rd St (bet Madison & 5th Ave)


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