Don's Bogam BBQ & Wine Bar, May 5, 2006

Don's Bogam BBQ & Wine Bar
17 E. 32nd Street bet. Madison and 5th Ave.

My mother-in-law Carin wanted to celebrate her birthday by having dinner at a Korean BBQ joint. I'd suggested Woo Lae Oak (as recommended on Chowhound) but in the end we found ourselves at the funky facaded Don's Bogam who's windows remind me of the geometric characters of the Korean language.
My in-laws had never had Korean BBQ before, I'd only been once before, my wife eats it relatively often and my brother-in-law and his Korean-American girlfriend Amy eat it at least once a month.

The space itself is divided into roughly four spaces, the wine bar up front, the dining area at ground level, the raised "main" dining area where we ate, and the kitchen in the rear.

Service is fairly swift in Korean restaurants (according to my dining partners who go often) and sure enough before we knew it, we'd been served a wide selection of appetizers, or probably more accurately named, amuses.

There was kimchee (nice heat and crunch...standard), spicy pickles (nice heat again), crunchy and very spicy whitebait, pickled green radish (so different, cross between cucumber, pear and apple-like flavors...but pickled), seaweed salad, a slaw of some kind made with corn, peas and carrots, and some other stuff.
For our ordered appetizers, we had something I think was called Hae Mool Pajun, which was a scallion pancake...very green in color and slightly bland and texturally awkward (kind of slimy and floppy, but good - not great), and an order each of steamed and fried dumplings, neither of which were memorable. In fact, they weren't very good at all. They make the dumplings at Rickshaw Dumpling Bar look like the gold standard of the dumpling world.

For my entree, I ordered the Bibimbop with spicy tuna. The tuna, which was very spicy, was fire engine red upon service. A heavy mixing of the bbq sauce they provide and the heat coming off of the stoneware quickly cooked the fish. I let the rice (which is on the bottom of the dish) sit for a little bit to get a little crunchy. Then I mixed it up and enjoyed the salmagundi of ingrediants. Danna ordered the short ribs version of this, as did my brother in law. His girlfriend I think ordered the traditional beef version and my father-in-law the same. The birthday girl went for the cook your own BBQ beef...which in the end was actually prepared by an employee of the restaurant (not just at our table either) on an electric, not coal fired, table stove. The beef was tasty and only one piece was slightly too fatty to enjoy.

Service was friendly, but slightly harried and not necessarily helpful in describing dishes. The wine we had, I simply don't remember the name of it, was awful. It opened up a little bit as the night went on but oof. No good.

Overall the experience was fun and has encouraged me to try Korean a little more often but it didn't wow some of us, and understandably so. I'm excited to try some new places (recommendations are welcome) in the near future but probably won't go back to this place. The seating was remarkably uncomfortable and could be, for some, impossible to get in and out of the chairs.


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