After a late breakfast, we headed to Times Square, followed by the Whitney Museum. By that time, it was 2:30, and we were craving a late lunch, so upon a recommendation from my brother-in-law, we tried to find Momofuku (171 1st Ave/New York, NY 10013/212.475.7899). The 1st Ave address implied that it was near the United Nations, so we spent a twenty blocks’ walk looking for this noodle house, finally calling it twice. But no one picked up to confirm, and we ended up heading to Grand Central Station as a consolation prize, disgruntled. (It looks like something’s wrong with its directory entry – it may be closed?)
Grand Central Station had a huge food court with smaller versions of “unique New York” (try saying that fast) culinary establishments. I shared and quickly gobbled down a tomato and parmesan foccacia from Zaro’s Bread Basket ($4.95), only made better by the temporary heat from the panini grill. I imagined it as an yeasty, herby upgrade of a pizza.
We then headed to Rockefeller Center and picked up pseudo-lunches from ‘wichcraft, in the basement. The gourmet fast food sandwich bar was pricey, though the sandwiches were good. Plus, points for presentation.
The slow-roasted pork sandwich ($8.50) with red cabbage and jalapeno had enough – if not too much – of a spicy kick. While the grilled fontina ($9) was fairly small, the makers had the great idea of including chewy black trumpet mushrooms (I am fairly certain these are the mushrooms labeled “black fungus” in Chinese supermarkets) and truffle oil on the moist-but-crisp white bread. A better choice was the soup ($4) – pureed cauliflower that was only apparent in the aftertaste, with colorful chive oil on top. It came with two thin, crunchy breadsticks to dip.
A quick stop for Dean and DeLuca’s coffee was next – we had been looking all afternoon for one. The coffee was hot and pungent – while the scent did indicate its bitterness, most of the aftertaste evaporated quickly.
On to Pinkberry! We searched online for the nearest location – and it happened to land smack-dab in the middle of Koreatown. Given my fondness for Berryline, I was eager to compare Pinkberry to it. Perhaps that is somewhat irreverent, however: Berryline is actually a Beantown knockoff of Pinkberry. As a result of the recent froyo craze and the fact that Starbucks is actually putting a little of their brew into Pinkberry, it seemed that Pinkberry was a little paranoid. I was yelled at for taking photos in the crowded space, which looked like an internet café meets teenage-girl Starbucks.
And what do I think about Pinkberry’s froyo? To some extent, it might have been Berryline withdrawal (I found out that they had mango – plus Oreo – while I was gone), or simply the factor of being first, but I found Pinkberry to be refreshingly good. Other customers walking out of the store called it “yogurty,” and that was indeed the case. It was also surprisingly creamy – I had expected something icier. The fruit – I ordered raspberries, blackberries and mango – was for the most part, fresh. My mango was unripe (another point for Berryline!) and green tendrils were protruding from one blackberry, but the raspberries were ideal.
Upon walking into the restaurant, we waited for seats to open. The restaurant looked comfortable, in a good way…but so did the menu, in a bad way. I scanned up and down the pages, but all I saw was “sweet and sour pork,” “Mongolian beef,” and more of what looked like to be generic Chinese take-out dishes. Not that I’m morally against “sweet and sour pork,” I just prefer to eat it only when necessary. (And by necessary, I mean once a year.)
My sister reassured me that “really, that’s the special thing about this place – they’re a Korean/Chinese hybrid restaurant,” but really, I struggled – and still do – with this conception.
(Warning: I am a moderate version of my friend Hank, who refuses to eat the (reputedly) “awesome” steak at Waffle House because he only eats waffles at Waffle House. That said, I do agree with him on the Cheesecake Factory – if you must, only get the cheesecake there. My take, however, is that the entrees there are not only generic but laced with sodium.)
Back to Hyo Dong Gak. I looked skeptically at my sister. First of all, the menu clearly stated Chinese restaurant. Second of all, one of the posted reviews on the restaurant’s bulletin board was from a local newspaper who championed the fact that their Japanese reviewer liked some sort of seafood delight. Awkward was an understatement, but just when I was about to leave, a table opened and we obligatorily sat down.
With a little help from Yelp, we chose our order: the noodles in brown sauce (called jajang-myeon - $5.95), an bowl of seafood noodle soup (with extra seafood), and tang soo yook, described on the site as a Korean version of sesame chicken. We looked around at all the other tables, and it looked like they ordered the exact same meal as well. Good call; we patted ourselves on the back.
The first thing that arrived was the tang soo yook. It did look like generic sweet-and-sour chicken, but it was surprisingly good. It had been deep fried in the same style, but the chicken came out hot and the oil tasted clean. Granted that when you bit into it, hot oil burst out, but it was quite tasty. The sauce was somewhat flavorless and the vegetables were definitely of the sweet-and-sour chicken genre (peppers, water chestnuts, snow peas), but the dish’s freshness made up for it. It wouldn’t be a repeat though; upon picking up the check, we found out that the chicken was almost double the price of the other dishes ($12.95).
The seafood noodle was tasty – the broth was flavorful, but also delicate, with a hint of ginger added to the seafood brew. The noodles were chewy, and there was a good deal of seafood in the bowl, which on its own, probably could have manhandled two of us. As for the noodles with brown sauce, it was my favorite dish. This traditional Korean dish – thick soy-based paste over diced pork, onions and other vegetables – is my mom’s favorite (and even has a Chinese equivalent) but the Minnesota restaurant rendition could not compare to this. The noodles were the same as those used for the seafood soup, and they complemented the sauce nicely. And oh, the sauce. It wasn’t salty and it definitely didn’t lack ingredients – rather, it had a bacony flavor that melded to and a thickness that clung on to the noodles.
So I ended up having to walk about fifteen blocks before my stomach felt less full…and that concludes my second day.