Mandoo Ya?

Mandoo Bar (actually pronounced Mahn-doh) was one of the first restaurants I frequented in NYC.  When I first moved here from Boston, I was living in my grandmother’s place in Larchmont, and commuting via Metro-North – Mandoo was a frequent stop for my soon-to-be-roommate and I before heading back to Grand Central to catch our respective trains.

I went back last night with my girlfriend after a jaunt to Daffy’s.  (Tax-free week AND restaurant week all at once?  Lucky me!)  One of the cheaper restaurants on the strip of 32nd St. known as Koreatown, Mandoo specializes in the eponymous dumplings – on a busy night, you’ll see a group of people manufacturing perfectly-arranged trays of them and then cooking them to order.  No frozen dumps here, ladies and gents.

Last night wasn’t so busy, though – we walked in at 7:50 and grabbed a table for two with no issues.  After scarfing the pickled daikon (radish) and a spicy-sauced veggie that I’m guessing might have been pickled turnip, I ordered several of my old favorites for us – kimchi mandoo, which my girlfriend (who I seem to have converted to spicy food fandom) also noticed, goon mandoo (at the prompting of our waiter, who seemed to think we were going to go hungry), and the bulgogi version of bibimbop.

The kimchi mandoo ($8) were especially good.  Shredded pickled cabbage and other veggies share space in your steamed dough with tofu and pork, and the flavor comes out somewhat mustard-like.  The goon mandoo ($8) weren’t as good – they came out a bit too soon, I thought, to be freshly fried, and the grease factor was a little more than I expected.  The filling (pork and vegetable) was fine.

If I’m in the mood for food that’s a little flashy, bibimbop (basic version is $9) fits the bill – it’s kind of like a liquid-less rice soup crossed with fajitas.  The dish generally arrives with the ingredients sharing separate quarters, but it’s meant to be eaten mixed.  At Mandoo, they’ll stir for you, upon request, and include one to several spoonfuls of a blood-red hot sauce, depending on your tolerance (for the real fire, grab the brighter-red hot sauce that’s next to the soy and vinegar on the table).

The rice pushed against the crock will fry into a pleasingly crunchy wafer, if you let it, but I prefer to let it brown only slightly, stirring and re-stirring as the crock cools down.  With the crunch, the veggies, the meat, and (in some versions) the egg, the flavor combination is strong but satisfying.

While the spice level doesn’t make this as mandatory as at, say, Spicy and Tasty, you can wash it all down with the Korean beer named O.B. and marvel at the tiny, juice-sized glass that arrives with the bottle – it’s almost like a Portuguese wine glass.  Cheers!

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