Grace Street

Merry Christmas everyone! It’s cold outside, perfect weather to curl up with warm blankets and…some piping hot Korean desserts?

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Grace Street is a coffee shop in Koreatown that has a beautiful interior of luxurious couches and wooden tables. Plenty of natural light streams in from the glass enclosing in the front. Lots of people were here catching up with friends or studying. Their specialty is Korean doughnuts (ho-dduk) which they explained to me were filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and walnuts.

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I almost burned my mouth not realizing that the doughnut comes out really hot. It’s crispy on the outside with a ooey melty center. Yums! This was quite sweet, which was unexpected for an Asian dessert. You can also order it with ice cream, which sounds like an amazing combination.

Grace Street
17 W 32nd St (btw 5th and Broadway) New York, NY 10001

Seoul Garden

Korean barbeque is one of those things that I love but rarely go to because I hate how the smells stick to your hair and clothes. Should I wear clothes that I don’t care about? But I also want to look presentable and not stomp down the street wearing oversized sweats. What if I have a destination after the meal? Do I want to go there smelling like marinated beef? Maybe if I were hungry, I wouldn’t mind that smell, but if you’ve just stuffed your face, it can be kind of sickening.

Wow. That was a very whiny and unappetizing intro. I’m sorry. Seoul Garden is great! Here’s what I ate:

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The side dishes include kimchi of the cabbage and cucumber variety, radish, crab, chives, bean sprouts, fish cakes, and pumpkin.

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Racks of marinated kalbi or beef short rib lying on the grill. The wait staff will do all the work for you: cutting up the meat, flipping over the meat, turning the grill on and off. Thank goodness they do because I don’t have a clue about how to handle a grill.

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We also got an order of spicy pork, which has a delicious sweet tang to it. I like to make little wraps with the lettuce, stuffed with some rice, meat, and veggies. You can make a different combination every time. Food is always more fun to eat when you get to dip, fold, stack, or play with it first. Think fondue, hot pot, and LUNCHABLES! Remember those? Best lunch (or rather snack because they were never enough to fill me up) ever!

Seoul Garden
34 W 32nd St 2nd Fl (btw Broadway & 5th) New York, NY 10001

Franchia

I have always struggled with my racial identity. Growing older and caring less about what the cool kids think and how to fit in have helped ease this issue, but nevertheless, the concept of race and the nature of being Asian American is often on my mind. I am by blood Chinese. I prefer dumplings over burgers. I become morbidly obsessed with Chinese TV dramas. In school, when other kids’ parents packed them sandwiches for lunch, my parents packed me fried rice, and I loved it. At the same time, I speak English better than Chinese. I can debate you up and down about American history but can’t tell you how many provinces China has, much less where all those provinces are located. I feel out of place when I visit China because I’m so used to being a minority that having everyone around me look like me was disorienting. How do you bridge that? How do I label myself? Do I need to pick a side? All questions that I’ve pondered and wrestled with.

Just as I struggle with fusing these identities in my own life, I think Asian fusion restaurants struggle with their identities and more often than not, fail spectacularly at it. While my experience at Franchia is not that bad, it’s done nothing to stop me from continuing to squint suspiciously at “Asian fusion” places.

Franchia is a modern, vegan, Asian fusion, Korean cafe and teahouse – quite a combination of identities it has taken on, each with varying degrees of success. I do love the ambiance of the space: a serene, tea-infused oasis with a modern kick.

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Some steamed kimchi dumplings to share, which were very yummy. I like the thin skin of the dumplings, and it’s nice to have dumplings steamed. I don’t usually see that as an option – they’re always pan-fried or boiled.

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My friend got the pad thai, which looks so pretty on the plate. It was a decent dish but nothing to rave about.

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The only side dish they have is some more kimchi. Does fusion mean you only get 1 instead of 10 side dishes? This makes me grumpy.

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For me, I went with an avocado bibimbap, which sounded like an interesting combination. Unfortunately, I don’t think the avocado worked too well with the rice and the red pepper paste. After mixing it all together, each bite was creamy but spicy as well, which was so weird. I couldn’t finish it.

Perhaps we ordered the wrong things. Or perhaps, this Asian fusion concept is not that easy to pull off.

Franchia
12 Park Ave (btw 35th & 34th) New York, NY 10016

BCD Tofu House

BCD Tofu House specializes in Korean tofu stews. The menu is very accommodating as there are a number of options for the stews – with seafood, with meat, vegetarian, and you can indicate your spice level too. Perfect for the impending cold weather, or any other weather really. I can’t ever say no to this.

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My seafood and beef tofu stew came bubbling and steaming all over the place. Careful with the bowl because it is super hot. Tofu stews come with a raw egg, so crack open the egg and mix it all in to thicken up the soup. I think their stews have more tofu in it than other places, so good for those who prefer more tofu and less soup.

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No Korean meal is complete without an array of banchan. There is the usual kimchi and cucumbers to the less often seen lotus roots and crab.

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What I love about BCD Tofu House is that they also give each person an entire fried fish with the side dishes. You can see I ate half of mine already before remembering to take a picture.

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Above are the two stone bowls that our rice came in. After scooping out the rice, these bowls will still have leftover rice sticking to the sides. The wait staff pours tea into these bowls, creating this soupy tea/rice mixture, similar to Japanese chazuke or Chinese pao fan. It’s so soothing to drink up and is a great palate cleanser at the end of the meal. 

BCD Tofu House
5W 32nd St (btw Broadway & 5th Ave) New York, NY 10001

Momofuku Noodle Bar

Last week, I had planned on writing this next blog post on Momofuku. This week, before I can get my post up, David Chang goes and wins the top prize in this year’s James Beard Awards. Perfect timing. A huge congratulations to the chef! I am a big fan of David Chang. He is a polarizing character, and people seem to either love him or hate him. I really admire his story: his perseverance, vision, and honesty. And of course, his food.

A must order each time is definitely…

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the pork buns. They have a good balance of lean and fatty. I could do with a bit more of the plum sauce though.

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I absolutely loved these goat sausage rice cakes. There’s a spicy kick to it, and the rice cakes are pan-fried, so they have a bit of crunch on the outside.

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More rice cakes but in a Korean red dragon sauce, which is a ridiculous name by the way. This reminded me of ddukboki, but less sweet and more spicy.

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t as excited about the ramen. Here we have the spicy miso ramen, which is not bad, but I think you can find better ramen in the city. The noodles were soggier than I like, and the flavors not as powerful. Doesn’t detract from my overall love of Momofuku though.

Fun fact: one of my good friends from college is David Chang’s niece. Small world!

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Ave (btw 10th and 11th St) New York, NY 10003

Bamboo House

I am so sorry that I haven’t updated in forever. It’s the end of the semester, and I have been swamped with papers and exams. I have finals for the next 2 weeks! Yikes! Wish me luck! I will be holed up in the library for the next week, but with yummy food of course.

JW and I went to Bamboo House a gazillion years ago during Fall Break (it was her birthday!!), and I have finally gotten around to writing about it. Once exams are over, I am going to catch up with this blog. I will! I promise.

Bamboo House is mom and pop Korean restaurant that has, according to my Korean friends, the most authentic Korean food in Charlottesville. It’s actually a long drive out (about 20 min.), and it’s really easy to miss because it’s this very unassuming warehouse like building on the side of the highway. Blink and you’ll miss it, so keep your eyes peeled! The outside is very sketchy looking, but the inside is pretty nice. There is this humongous tv that is always showing Korean channels, and you can sing karaoke too! Haha so Asian, but pretty cool. I sang here once with a group, and they have a HUGE variety of music from English to Chinese to Korean to any other Asian country’s songs.

I think the lady who runs this restaurant does both the front of the house AND the back of the house, so she is the chef/waitress/hostess all bundled in one person. WOW! She’s pretty amazing and super nice.

JW and I ordered a ridiculous amount of food, and somehow we managed to finish most of it. Yeah. I stretched my stomach beyond its limits that night. I should get a medal for it. Anyways, the food was DELICIOUS!

Spicy Pork Bulgogi

Spicy Pork Bulgogi – I love meat! Yummy, juicy pork with lots of spicy flavor which you wrap in a big piece of lettuce! I definitely recommend this. It was a nice change from the usual bulgogi and kalbi, especially because it was spicy. And if you know me, you know that I live for spicy food.

Gom Tang

Gom Tang – This was my FAVORITE of the night. It’s oxtail soup with slices of beef and rice noodles. I have learned that in some Korean restaurants , they will bring you this jar of salt, and you can add in however much salt you want in the soup. Here, she seasoned it for us already, and it was perfectly seasoned. The soup was rich, the noodles soft, and the beef tender. Oh such delicious explosions in my mouth…

Jap Chae

Jap Chae – This was kind of a failure. It’s cellophane noodles stir fried with lots of different veggies, which sounded really good. However, I thought it was a little on the sweet side, which I did not like. I think this was the only one we didn’t finish.

Yummy kimchee!!!

The pickled radishes was my fav!

And of course, the multitude of banchan. Here we have napa cabbage kimchee, cucumber kimchee, 2 different kinds of pickled radishes, spinach, bean sprouts, and anchovies (not shown). You know, just the banchan alone with some rice would be enough for a meal. I always have to restrain myself from eating so much banchan in order to save room for the food that I actually ordered.

So much fooooodddd!

This is our giant table of food. I know. We were kind of crazy.

Our overflowing table...hahah

All in all, Bamboo House is amazing! One of my absolute favorite places in Charlottesville.  I highly recommend it for everyone. Oh, and they have Chinese food on the menu too, but don’t get that stuff. First of all, it’s American Chinese food. Second of all, this is a Korean restaurant so order what they’re good at.

Bamboo House
4831 Seminole Trail
Charlottesville, VA 22911-8301

Yummy Korean BBQ

I took my brothers out to lunch, and we went to this tiny Korean restaurant right next our house that is a favorite of mine. The name of the restaurant is absolutely hilarious. It used to be called Tasty Korean BBQ, but now they changed it to Yummy Korean BBQ. I have no idea why. It only has 4 tables and is very much a mom and pop, hole-in-the-wall type of place, but I love these types of restaurants. The décor is actually very nice for such a small place. Everything was very Ikea-esque.

Mandoo with bean sprouts and broccoli

Mandoo with bean sprouts and broccoli

My younger younger brother got the mandoo mini plate with broccoli and bean sprouts.

Kalbi with potatoes and bean sprouts

Kalbi with potatoes and bean sprouts

Kalbi with kimchi, potatoes, and broccoli

Kalbi with kimchi, potatoes, and broccoli

My older younger brother and I both got the Kalbi. I always mean to try something else like the japchae, but I always end up getting kalbi because I love it so much. The plates come with rice, and you get to choose some panchan. I do wish that they had more variety with the panchan, but I forgive them because they are such a tiny place.

It was so yummy!

Yummy Korean BBQ
1255 Fordham Dr # 113
Virginia Beach, VA 23464