The cuisine of Korea can be baffling to outsiders, but exploration is rewarding: The flavors are a wonderful balance of hot and cold, spicy and mild with sweet, salty and tangy notes.
To taste a traditional Korean spread, head to Myung Ga Tofu & B.B.Q. Restaurant in Doral. It doesnt look like much from the outside, but inside you are in “the land of the morning calm,” a soothing and tastefully decorated modern Asian space.
Owner and chef Dong O occasionally emerges from the kitchen to mingle with customers, many of whom are Korean and Japanese nationals from the big Asian firms nearby. Myung Ga (“bright house”) is a Korean franchise with outposts all over the United States.
Dong O bought the Florida license and plans to open next in Orlando. His original restaurant is in Weston. He studied marketing at New York University and moved to South Florida in 1996. His retired father, who owned a popular wedding banquet hall in Korea, comes from Seoul every few months to help out.
Open a year and a half, the Doral restaurant is busiest during weekday lunch, so come in late afternoon or early evening for a leisurely exploration of the menu.
The banchan or main dishes come with a half-dozen complimentary mit banchan (small side dishes) such as fish cake strips with black sesame seeds, kimchi (spicy pickles) and steamed broccoli with chile paste. Good starters include handmade fried dumplings called gunmandoo, stuffed with ground pork; seafood and scallion pancakes or hobakjook (pumpkin soup).
There are always specials — grilled pork chops, for example, or kalkooksu (flat wheat noodles similar to udon) with seafood in a spicy curry sauce. The specialties are tofu soups with house-made, custard-soft tofu and grilled meats and seafood.
In most Korean places you grill the meat yourself at a hibachi contraption at the table, but here it is cooked in the kitchen. Best and most popular is galabee, beef short ribs marinated in fruit puree, soy sauce, cinnamon and seaweed. It’s served on a bed of grilled onion, good with the lettuce salad and a dab of hot sauce.
Another favorite is bibimbap, served in a black clay pot. Rice is topped with thin grilled slices of beef, strips of cucumber, steamed spinach, shiitake mushroom bits, carrots, bean sprouts, gosali (fiddlehead fern), zucchini and dolaji (strips of crunchy bell-flower root) and topped with a raw egg. Pour in the gochu-jang (hot chile sauce), mix with chopsticks (the egg gets cooked in the hot rice) and dig in.
End with potbingsoo – shaved ice topped with condensed milk, ice cream, sweet red beans, cubes of gelatin and rice cake sprinkled with mung bean powder. Mani deuseyo! (Delicious!)
Myung Ga Tofu & B.B.Q. Restaurant, 4207 NW 107th Ave., Doral; 305-468-6677; also 1944 Weston Rd., Weston.; 954-349-7337; 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; Starters $3.95-$7.95, grills $12.95-$18.95, tofu soups $10.95-$11.95, rice and noodle dishes $6.95-$19.95.
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