This review of a New York restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
Korean cuisine may be best known for its barbecue and bibimbaps, but there are many other dishes from the Korean peninsula to try out including tofu. The decade-old Cho Dang Gol is reputed to be one of the best places serving Korean-style tofu in Manhattan, so I had to try it out on my recent visit to the Big Apple. I visited Cho Dang Gol for a light lunch on a weekday afternoon so I got there by 11.45, but by 12.30 the place was already full to the rafters with other punters, mostly Korean, with others queueing up for a table. Definitely a good sign.
The interior has been made up to resemble a rustic rural inn with an abundance of wooden pillars and mildly kitsch Korean artefacts decorating the walls. Service is brusque but efficient in a style that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever been to London’s Chinatown.
Whether you want it or not, you’re presented with a smorgasbord of small dishes to whet your appetite while you wait for your main courses. The bowl of mushy milky-looking tofu doesn’t look particularly appetising, but has a mildly creamy and sweet taste to it. The kimchee is refreshing with a cumulative spiciness that sneaks up on you the more you eat. It’s not the spiciest kimchee I’ve ever had, but it’s still one of the better examples of the dish.
Milky tofu stuff. Looks weird, tastes nice.
The fermented peanuts are moreisly addictive – if you’ve ever had natto, the tangy and strongly flavoured Japanese fermented soybeans, then you’ll know what to expect. The slightly bitter greens paired with refreshing sweet cucumber was an interesting and tasty combination, but was overshadowed by the surprisingly sweet baby leaf greens which had an almost banana-like tang. The excessively salty, flaky chunks of spiced fish weren’t to my taste though.
I had ordered steamed vegetable dumplings as starter (before realising I would be getting the massive smorgasbord mentioned above), but for some reason I ended up with chicken dumplings instead. I’m not sure if this was a genuine mistake or a passive-aggressive manoeuvre against vegetable-eaters (what the Jolly Giant would call a ‘hambush’), but I tucked in regardless. Disappointingly, the dumpling skins were bland and had a tendency to fall apart, but the hearty chicken fillings were pleasing enough even though they relied more on their meaty stockiness rather than any especially distinctive taste.
It’s a miracle! These vegetable dumplings have been transformed into chicken dumplings!
There was no such disappointment with the vegetable tofu hotpot though. The massive portion of tofu was delicately sweet and nutty with a soft, silky texture. It was complimented well by the bubbling hotpot with its bold, stocky, fishy flavour and copious amounts of mildly spicy mushrooms and sweet cucumbers. The gently poached egg nestled in a sea of nutty-tasting rice rounded out a filling, but not too stodgy dish that was full of interesting flavours.
Looks messy, tastes great.
Although the dumplings were a disappointment (stick with the varied smorgasbord instead), there were no such problems with the tofu which is deservedly the main attraction at Cho Dang Gol. Best of all is the price – at just $20 excluding tip it’s an absolute bargain, but get there early or book in advance. Four stars.
Name: Cho Dang Gol
Address: 55 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001
Phone: 212 695 8222
Opening Hours: seven days a week 11.30-22.30
Total cost for one person including free tap water but excluding tip: $20 (approx. £13 at time of writing)