For our son’s birthday, we drove down to New York City and took him out to dinner. We had asked him to choose a restaurant and he opted for Dok Suni , a Korean establishment close to his apartment in the East Village. We do seem to be eating quite a bit of Korean food these days, don’t we? Partly, it’s because we are tired of Thai and Japanese and he doesn’t care much for Indian or Chinese. Besides, Korean cuisine is spicy and offers my wife a choice of vegetarian and fish dishes, she having stopped eating meat at least temporarily.
Dok Suni is a charming and cosy, if somewhat dingy, place on First Avenue. I vaguely remember reading a long ago N.Y. Times review which touted it as a serving good home-style Korean food.The small dining room seats about 30 or so diners in a squarish room , a quarter of which is taken up by the bar. The wallpaper is a Korean calligraphy design and the room is lit with small latticed lanterns of the type you see carried by watchmen in Japanese/ Korean period movies. The fitful light they provide is augmented only by candles on the tabletops and that makes it difficult to read the menu.
The first surprise at Dok Suni is that there don’t seem to be any banchan , those ‘free’ side-dishes that customarily begin a Korean meal. The next surprise is that Dok Suni only takes cash, a rare practice these days. Our niece, Ajanta, joins us and we order appetizers and drinks. Ajanta has a sake, Rohan orders a bourbon based mixed drink and I get an OB, the excellent full-bodied Korean beer that I so rarely come across these days. Then comes another surprise. My wife asks for green tea and we are told that they do not serve tea. A Korean restaurant that does not serve tea ? Sacrilege !!
The appetizers arrive. The shrimp sauteed with asparagus in a spicy sauce is excellent as is the Kim-Bohp : rice, spinach, pickled daikon and beef rolled in seaweed ( like a sushi roll) and served with a dipping sauce. The O’ Bok Salad , however, is a sore disappointment, the mix of cabbage, cucumbers and barley noodles overpowered by the ‘spicy mustard – vinegar’ dressing. Actually, I thought it was horseradish rather than mustard.
Of the four entrees we order, two are very good. The seafood pancake replete with squid, cuttlefish and oysters is nicely crisped on the outside, unlike the doughy, undercooked versions we have seen all too often. The panfried seabass is excellent, perfectly cooked and complemented by a flavorful, mildly spicy sauce. The kalbi, grilled marinated shortribs are unexceptionable but the barbecued chicken just so-so. We wrap it in lettuce leaves and add the peanut sauce ( more Thai or Indonesian than Korean) and hot sauce which improves matters somewhat but the dish is still needs something more.
The meal ends with little glasses of a cinnamon and ginger infused tea which is supposed to act as a digestive.
Dok Suni doesn’t list any desserts but Ajanta had brought along an excellent birthday cake for the occasion. We light up the candles, sing Happy birthday and enjoy a slice of the cake.
I’ve read some of the other reviews of Dok Suni and they are almost uniformly laudatory. Many call it ‘excellent’ and ‘ the best’. I wouldn’t go that far though perhaps our choice of dishes could have been better. Dok Suni does have good food and friendly service but I have to say that I liked Woo Lae Oak better. Pricewise , a meal at Dok Suni will run you about $ 80 for two people, including tax and tip and one drink per person.
Dok Suni. 119 First Avenue, N.Y, N.Y. 10003. ( Between Seventh Street and St. Mark’s Place). Open 7 days . Cash only.
P.S. I have mixed feelings about ban chan, the ‘free’ appetizers that begin a Korean meal. Even though they are not really free, their price being factored into the cost of the entrees, it feels good to have them. Spread out on the table they are a good prelude to the meal and something to nibble as we wait for the entrees to arrive. Sometimes, as at Woo Jee On in Edison, there can be too many of them so that one is already full before the entrees arrive. On balance, I would rather have them than not. Dok Suni did serve a couple of plates after we had ordered the appetizers but it was too little, too late.