The smell of sizzling meat fills the air, as smoke rises into large metal tubes above each table. Waiters in black t-shirts carry trays of raw steak and pork to each table, adjusting the grill located in the center of the table to the perfect temperature. With tongs, they place the meat onto the grill, slicing it into pieces with a handy scissor before serving. Standing near the front bar, I watched on with amazement at the methodical process of serving Korean BBQ at the newest Manhattan hotspot. The crowds ranged from businessmen with expensive suit jackets on the back of their seats and sleeves rolled up to hipster teens wearing flat brimmed hats, glasses and army jackets.
Welcome to Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. Say that five times fast. Since it’s opening in December, the lines haven’t stopped forming. Waits can often last over an hour, since each party gets their own grill. But it’s worth the wait. Buzz began months before the official opening date, with two successful locations in L.A. and Flushing, Queens. However, the Koreatown location is distinguished from the other two under different management and leadership in the kitchen. Momofuku and Jean Georges vet Deuki Hong took the reins in the kitchen, adding to the excitement.
My dad’s standard for Korean fare is incredibly high. He spent three months living in Seoul, South Korea in the 80s, and loves to reminisce about his time there. While we waited for our table, my Dad chatted with the tattooed Korean bartender, sporting a sleeve of intricate designs down both his arms. They shares stories of travel, talking about their favorite beer that’s hard to find in the United States.
Despite being a Korean restaurant, they serve Sapporo, a Japanese beer, along with traditional Soju. Liquor is also available in the form of unique, sweet cocktails served in Mason jars.
Our table was already filled with small metal bowls holding various traditionally prepared vegetables, tofu and sauces. Perhaps the most difficult obstacle when it comes to this meal is using the metal chopsticks. It’s surprisingly difficult to pick up the food, even for the most skilled user.
Silky tofu sits in a pool of soy-chili dressing topped with thinly sliced scallions.
Spicy, cabbage kimchi has a mild heat and slight crunch.
Brightly colored raw radishes and beets are light, slightly sweet and crunchy to counter-balance all of the other rich items spread across the table.
Steamed kabocha squash topped with toasted pumpkin seeds has a winter warmth and mild sweetness.
Bowls of shredded sprouts and scallions are topped with a spicy-sweet gochujang dressing, a vegetable that’s meant to be placed underneath the sizzling meat to counter balance the richness. In addition, a bowl of bare romaine lettuce sits in a bowl meant to accompany the protein.
After a few minutes of noshing on the delightful spread, it’s time to select your protein of choice. The raw meat options are a la carte or a combination, along with a variety of appetizers, noodles and stews. We opted to order the beef combination, selecting the prime boneless short rib, along with the thinly sliced brisket and seasoned prime short rib.
Thin metal stands hold the trays of raw meat in place, while the waiter works his magic on the grill.
The meal begins with the brisket.
The meat sizzles, as the steam rises above the metal grate. With tongs in two very swift motions, the meat is flipped cooking until the perfect brown coloring.
Once the meat is ready, the waiter recommends dipping the protein into their signature house dipping sauce with a dollop of fresh a wasabi on the side.
Soak the piece of brisket into the sweet and savory dipping sauce and enjoy.
The buttery brisket begins to entice the palate, getting ready for the next round of meaty goodness. In addition, as the rolls of raw brisket disappear, the additional side dishes of the cheesy, sweet corn and egg finish cooking on the outside of the grill. The corn is addictive, devour this quickly and the waiter will refill it up with a giant smile.
For the next round of food, the waiter switches out the grill, opting for a more open grate. The flames engulf the pieces of boneless short rib, as they cook to a perfect medium rare.
A scissor slices the short rib into bite size pieces.
The waiter instructs us to sprinkle salt onto the meat. The saltiness brings out the sweetness from the incredible cut of boneless rib. A crispy outside keeps the inside perfectly pink, its tender, juicy and absolutely delicious.
In addition to the never-ending buffet of raw meat, the combination comes with a bowl of Kimchi Stew to warm up your insides.
This reminds me of my Mom’s famous cabbage soup, with tomatoes and cabbage, mixed with a subtle Korean spice. The heat builds sip by sip, causing me to pass the bowl across the table for my dad to finish.
They save the best for last. Pieces of prized prime short rib are marinated in sweet, salty and slightly spicy sauce. The intoxicating scent of meat fills your lungs as it hits the hot grill.
An almost caramelized exterior forms around the pieces of prime short rib, as the meat glistens with flavor. It takes all of your will power not to stick your chopstick onto the grill to start eating the meat as it’s still rare.
No condiments are needed when it comes to this final cut of steak. The flavor is pure perfection, sweet, savory, rich and tender. It’s hard to fully put into words how truly incredible this steak is. If anyone knows the secret marinade for the steak, I would pay a lot to know. Even though you don’t think you can eat anything more, you force yourself to finish the steak, savoring every bite that crosses your lips.
It’s no wonder celebrities have already flocked to taste the incredible food at Baekjeong in Koreatown. Anthony Bourdain chowed down. David Chang stopped by. QuestLove rocked out. This place is the real deal, getting an insane amount of food for your money. The atmosphere is extraordinarily fun, the staff knows how to grill up some incredible protein, and the ingredients are fresh. For a great night of interactive eats that will leave your clothes smelling of smoke and meat, Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong is the ultimate spot.
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong – 1 East 32nd Street – New York, NY
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong
Location: Midtown East/Koreantown, NY
Perfect For: Casual Meal, Impressing Foodies, Authentic Dining
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Beef Combo, Tof