Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hangawi - Koreatown

OK, so you remember when I said I was half Italian? Well I am, but I'm also half Korean, which makes for an interesting mix and for good conversation, but even better food.

Wandering around the small, on-the-rise, Koreatown area of New York bordered by 31st and 36th Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues, we found a large, intimidating, wooden door with old cast iron ring handles. Naturally, I thought this would be a great place to dine.

Upon entering we found it to be a vegetarian restaurant with an antique interior. Slipping our shoes off and dipping into an inset booth that made the illusion that you're sitting on the ground made for a relaxing atmosphere along with dim lighting and antique fixtures--even the servers were in traditional garb.

I went for bean curd with the Korean staple: kimchi. If you don't know what kimchi is then I suggest you just try it. My mother grew up on a farm in Buyo, Korea and just to let you in on the brilliance that is kimchi imagine: radish, cabbage, roots, and other vegetables packed into a mason jar with chili paste and other spices and then buried in the ground.

Yep, buried to allow it to ferment. Legit kimchi is pretty high on the hot factor when it comes to fermenting in hot chili paste, but most places in the states don't go as far to burn the tongues of gringos.

The bean curd was cut into large cubes and drizzled with a spicy chili sauce. Firm and chilled they offset the warm kimchi (kimchi is often served cold as well) well. The kimchi was the best had ever had in a restaurant. The spiciest I've had (that wasn't homemade) and a good mix of vegetables and green and it had mushrooms as well--awesome.

Steamed vegetable dumplings made a good companion to the meal which were pretty standard--who doesn't love dumplings? A very tall OB beer came to quench all thirsts and did so unrestrained.

A great dining experience, but certainly high on the price meter. It was $17 for the bean curd with kimchi, $8 dumplings, $8 beer. For the two of us? $63 without tip. A nice place for a date--especially if they are vegetarian.

Kamsa hamnida.

12 East 32nd St., New York, 10016, 212-689-0780

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