I have begged my Korean colleagues to take me out for some authentic Korean food for years. They always fire back with a litany of excuses why they won't take me to Manhattan's Korea Town: "It's touristy", "It's not authentic", "Queens is better", "Fort Lee is the real Korea town", "I only eat my Mom's cooking - and no, I will not bring a doggie bag to the trading floor". They all may be legit reasons - but that doesn't mean I let up. And I finally won.
Last night I was exposed to the wonders of K-Town and the hidden nightlife behind it. My conclusions (if stereotypical and broad):
For those that have been overwhelmed with choices walking down 32nd in search of authentic Korean BBQ, you aren't alone. Towering above you from second and even third stories, with neon signs in both broken English and Korean, offering distinctly different, yet delicious smells, the restaurant options simultaneously lure and scare. Sure, you could eenie-meenie-mini-mo it and probably have a decent meal wherever you decide, but I don't ever leave my dinner to chance. Which is why I called in the experts, who led me up an interior staircase in an unassuming, casual eatery that sort of reminded me of a Jewish Deli. It was a choice I never would have made for myself, but boy am I glad we did. The restaurant of choice was called New York Kom Tang Kal Bi House. Why this particular spot? Because they use charcoal grills rather than gas or electric, which makes for a smokier, charred meat, (if not your clothing). - something I never would have guessed from the sidewalk.
Throughout dinner I played my part as the overly eager beaver, spitting questions out almost as quickly as I ate. My friends patiently answered and explained every dish, sauce, condiment, and drink - of which there were dozens. The best part? Dinner for four hovered around $100 - and full doesn't even begin to describe how we felt. I took copious notes of what we ate, in hopes that I can play the in-the-know faux Korean with my friends next time (tonight?).
The next stop on the K-town express was Third Floor, a swank restaurant/lounge hidden on the, wait for it, third floor of a nearby office building. I'll admit I was a little apprehensive upon entering the jam-packed, bumping bar - I started humming 'which-one's-not-like-the-other' as I made my way through the obviously all Korean crowd. At nearly six feet tall and blond, I didn't exactly blend in, but boy did it get me a lot of free drinks. Here's another stereotype you can cringe at: Korean men like tall, blond women. Korean women? Not so much - but nothing a few rounds of tequila shots can't smooth over. Within minutes our crew had tripled in size as well as blood alcohol level, so we moved the party to a scene more conducive to loud drunk ladies.
Circle was our next and final destination. Known to many [transvestites] as "Arena" on all nights but Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I was told it is the Korean hotspot. Free drinks for ladies before 10:30 and an admittedly great set list called for a jam packed dance floor within an hour of arrival. Three free vodka and tonics later and there I was, all lanky arms and legs, grinding it out with a gaggle of hot and sexy Korean women that might have come up to my armpits. Thankfully the only camera to be found did not capture the alluring scene as I danced off my Korean BBQ in ignorant bliss.