Sietsema on Two New Korean Chains
Today, Our Man Sietsema goes and checks out two new Korean spots. He weighs in on the trend of foreign chains popping up in New York, (Koreans bringing hot dogs to New York?) and noshes on bulgogi dogs and fried chicken. Get the goods, below.
In a recent piece for the fall preview issue, I inveigled against the invasion of New York by chain restaurants, and more specifically, foreign chains from Korea, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Japan, a result of the weakening dollar and the attractive vitality of the New York restaurant scene to foreign investors. I also complained about the carbon footprint of fast food sourced on the other side of the globe. One signifier of this trend was New York Hot Dog and Coffee, a Korean chain which replaced a longstanding Italian pastry shop on Bleecker Street, posing the question, Can’t New Yorkers make their own damn hot dogs? The place was in what Eater calls the “plywood stage” for many months, but now that it’s finally open, a friend and I had a chance to sample the hot dogs. I’ve got to sheepishly admit, even David Chang probably can’t make hot dogs quite like that. Best was the bulgogi dog ($5.99), a bulging, artificial-skin frank stuck in a puffy bun with pickles, lettuce, and a good quantity of sautéed bulgogi beef dusted with sesame seeds. The dog – a bloated ball park frank, rather than New York’s slender, natural-skin wieners – came in two subspecies: mild and hot, with the hot preferred; the bulgogi beef topping was also spicy. The dak-kalbi ($5.99, shown above), a chicken frank topped with “barbecued” chicken was not as impressive; both dog and topping were bland and undersalted. The plain beef frank with mustard and sauerkraut (also shown) was fairly tasty, and, at $2.99, nearly equal in volume to a pair of New York franks from Gray’s Papaya ($2.50), and not quite as good, with no resounding pop when you bite down on it. On a roll, my friend and I also sought out BBQ Chicken, a Korean chicken joint that recently opened on St. Marks after long delays. In common with similar chains already operating in Flushing, Jackson Heights, Koreatown, and Chambers Street, two types of chicken are offered: plain and hot and spicy. The innovation that BBQ Chicken offers is frying in virgin olive oil. When we arrived at the narrow space (which boasts a comfortable, fashion-forward dining room in the rear and a couple of tables on the street), the air was suffused with the odor of olive oil, so that with eyes closed you might think you were in an Italian trattoria.
The crunchy-skinned plain ($5.95 for two pieces plus baking-powder biscuit) tasted clean and slightly nutty, but we couldn’t help noticing that the skin had been removed, ostensibly for health reasons, which may also be the rationale behind the use of olive oil. (All Korean friend chicken franchises claim to be “healthy.”) Who’s eating the skin? we wondered. It’s the best part. The glazed chicken was terrible, tasting like it had been dunked in corn syrup infused with jelly beans. Sides included battered waffle fries and mac and cheese engulfed in a Cheez Whiz-type sauce. Hard to believe there’s no transfats in there, further undermining the health claims.
Fads aside, neither of these new places offer much of a deal, charging a premium for novelty. Although, at $5.99 plus tax, I guess the bulgogi dog might be considered a relatively cheap meal. Just don’t order sides or a beverage.
New York Hot Dog and Coffee (245 Bleecker Street, 917-388-2608); BBQ Chicken (26 St. Marks Place, 212-982-9616)