So Gong Dong Tofu in Hartsdale
Macari Vineyards at Restaurant North, and Lookout, Boilermaker: Allow Me to Introduce The Bulldog!
Here’s the pitch, and it’s all of six words: We’re talking Korean fast food, tasty and cheap.
So Gong Dong Tofu (411 N. Central Ave, 914-397-1790) in Hartsdale is a bright, cheerful temple to tastiness located in the endless, dreary shopping center that is Central Avenue (guess what? It’s right near the Christmas Shoppe, which is both open and super-depressing in August!). In contrast to the wan corporate offerings that pollute its immediate surroundings, So Gong Dong Tofu is a damn fine bulgogi and bibimbap house. Stop in for a quick meal after hitting Trader Joes in the strip mall down the street.
So Gong Dong Tofu is plain, but pretty with clean wood booths, bare tablecloths, and a wall partially penetrated by stone bowls which are just embedded there as though they were thrown by Oddjob himself. We started with a glass—actually a plastic—of delicious hot barley tea, which is the standard Korean beverage. It’s watery, yet subtly scented with nutty, toasted grains. As we settled in, we shared a single kimchi pancake. It was giant, virtually plate-sized, and studded with pink and green pickled cabbage and looped whole scallions. Pick up a quarter of the pancake with your chopsticks as though it were a slice of pizza. Dip it into the brawny, sesame gilded soy. Mmm. Mild, spicy, eggy, and salty all at once. We were surprised (given So Gong Dong Tofu’s fast food vibe and low prices) that the dish arrived with a generous banchan, or the complimentary assortment of appetizers that generally come with formal Korean meals. This one included a deliciously fiery pickled daikon and jalapeno, kimchi, pickled bean sprouts, and lightly pickled cucumber.
Looking around, we noticed that we were the only non-Asian diners in the joint. In fact, there were a lot of single diners, too. Song Gong Dong Tofu is a comfortable, casual spot where either gender will feel perfectly at ease dining alone. There are very few dishes on this laser focused menu: soondubu jjigae (a soft tofu stew, lunch portion $9.95/dinner $11.95); bibimbap (lunch $9.95/dinner $11.95); and Korean barbecue (it’s grilled in the kitchen, not at the table, and prices range from $12.95 to $15.95, whether lunch or dinner). I splurged the two extra bucks for bibimbap on the hot stone, and there it arrived crackling and smoking on its superheated stone. In defiance of the tempting smell, I waited as my bibimbap merrily crackled because the toasted rice on the bottom of the stone is the most delicious part. I fought off the advances of an apprehensive waitress who kept rushing me to stir my bibimbap. Success! When I finally tossed the crackling composition of rice, carrots, squash sautéed mushrooms, eggs, pork, and spicy/sweet kochujang (chili paste), there was that bottom layer of crunchy, golden rice.
While you’re at it, don’t miss the garlicky, tangy beef bulgogi, sparkling with sweet/salty soy, and nutty sesame. It’s served with that distinctive sticky, translucent Korean short grain rice that’s similar to sushi rice (but is served plain—that is, without a sprinkling of vinegar).
Macari Vineyards at Restaurant North with Vine and Co.
September 17, 6 pm
$85 per person
You do not want to miss this one, folks. The entire Macari family of Macari Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island will be joined by Mark Snyder of Red Hook Winery. We are talking a vortex of very cool wine folks joining the dynamic Restaurant North duo, Stephen Paul Mancini (no wine slouch himself) and Eric Gabrynowicz. Plus—to be really tacky—the price for this event is excellent. Call Restaurant North www.restaurantnorth.com for more details.
The Bulldog at La Herradura
Just look at it. It’s unholy. It’s an abomination. Actually, it’s pretty delicious and —get this!—its flavor changes with every sip. We’re talking a tiny bottle of Corona beer jammed upside down in the neck of a frozen margarita. Stick with me here, folks. I know this thing just looks like a crime, but the Bulldog is just the next generation of beertail. Think of the Bulldog as an insane combination of a boilermaker (a shot of whiskey dumped into beer) and a michelada (beer, lime, Worcestershire sauce).