As you can probably tell by the embarrassingly long hiatus, the fall semester has fallen upon Morningside Heights, meaning shorter days and longer nights—most of which are spent in the library. Nostalgia for another summer gone by lingers among the books and papers, as the Brunch with Bear team has reluctantly begun to wear scarves. One of the things we miss most about the summertime is all that delicious barbecue (Bear-becue?), but luckily, Koreatown has it all year round!
If you’re picturing charred hot dogs and piles of watermelon, then Korean barbecue (KBBQ) will be quite a shock to your senses. Instead picture sizzling hibachi grills with thinly sliced, expertly marinated meats, and stone hot pots filled with rice, veggies, and eggs. While every restaurant has its specialties and variations, Kunjip is a great place to start with the basics.
Kunjip is located in the heart of Manhattan’s Koreatown, on 32nd Street between Broadway and 5th Avenues. The closest train stations are any of the 34th Street stations on the 1, 2, 3, B, D, F, M, N, Q, or R trains, or the 33rd Street station on the 6 train. While there are many restaurants on 32nd Street, Kunjip is often very crowded and has a line, due to its quality service and hip atmosphere.
Efficiency seems to be key to the operations of Kunjip. The last time we went, it was particularly crowded, so we looked at menus while in line so that we could order as quickly as possible, and all around us, tables were filled and cleared in record time. Getting into Kunjip on a crowded night is like getting onto a Disneyland ride on a Saturday: the line is longer than you want it to be, but you can hear how much fun everyone on the ride is having and the closer you get to the front, the more excited you are about the whole prospect. The atmosphere was very energetic (i.e. loud) and smells of spicy food and sounds of large parties waft everywhere.
Our waiter was really enthusiastic, and immediately wrote down my allergies to dairy and peanuts. “No problem,” he said, “we don’t use any of that stuff here.” Talk about easy! He had a server bring us water right away and repeated our orders to make sure he got it right the first time (another efficiency booster).
Part of KBBQ is the little side dishes that you get as small plates, like Korean version of tapas. While most KBBQ is shared family-style, it is also acceptable to order your own dish, particularly when with friends who are not used to family-style dining or whom you don’t know very well.
While I’m partial to any chance to order bulgogi, a Korean barbecued beef, or kalbi, Korean short ribs, this particular time I settled for a hot bibimbap, which is a stone hot pot filled with rice, veggies, meat, and egg, and you stir it to create a sort of fried rice dish. Bibimbap is a lot of fun, because the egg cooks itself on the stone bowl, and it’s also a good way to remember to eat your vegetables!
My order also came with a tofu soup, which was not my favorite thing, but it could have been because I was so full from my rice dish. I took half of it home in a little container for lunch the next day. Like all fried rice, it heated well in the microwave.
The most difficult part of dining at Kunjip was probably splitting the check. Fair warning: KBBQ is usually on the more expensive ends of dinners, but with the right people, worth the extra few dollars. We did an amalgam of cash and cards, but our hostess seemed accustomed to the assortment, probably due to the large crowds of young people.
Kunjip is a great place for the New York college scene, as most of the clientele seemed to be students and young professionals. Kunjip is close to several karaoke bars, which probably heightens its appeal for this crowd. Everyone seemed comfortable squished into close quarters with other parties. Several people in our party during this last trip to Kunjip were new to the idea of KBBQ, and seemed skeptical at first but then were able to pick it up quite easily. An open mind goes a long way when trying new cuisines, and everyone enjoyed their food.
As summer fades fast into fall, the Brunch with Bear team is happy to have a place that will still have warm and freshly grilled barbecue for us, even when the temperatures start to dip into sweater weather! We look forward to the new school year with high hopes for good friends and good food!