BY BRADLEY HAWKS
It feels like the tiny entrance to a tiny home. Tiny plants and miniature statues crowd the front window. Paper ornaments hang from one wall, with a chalkboard displayed on the other. There are only four stools, and one of them is pulled in front of the counter to hold a stack of menus — menus that have been modified, with several items covered in thin strips of paper to conceal menu items that have been abandoned or reworked.
“It’s a work in progress,” smiles the chef from around the corner.
This peculiar little space is the home of Don Korean Cuisine, and it’s one of several new Korean kitchens appearing on the scene in western Queens. The place may be small, and the consulting chef may be perpetually tweaking the menu, but in the month since they have opened that have drawn quite a crowd — especially in deliveries.
On one visit, I started with Ddeokbokki — Korean rice cakes that look and taste like wonderfully chubby pieces of spaghetti the length and width of a baby carrot. These chewy little cylinders come swimming in a spicy hot pepper sauce. Though I avoid the actual glistening, fiery peppers, the heat is intense, yet wonderfully enjoyable. Mixed with crumbles of pork sausage and thin shavings of roasted garlic, it reminds me of a spicy take on a Bolognese with astonishingly portly noodles. I devour the entire bowl, and extinguish the fire on my tongue with a $1.50 box of banana milk.
“I am from Korea, and the bibimbap here is fantastic,” boasts the cashier on my next visit, “but you should try the bibim burger, I think.” I take her advice, and am giddy over the rustic garlic baguette stacked with a beef patty, thin ribbons of carrots and cucumber, those same garlic crisps, bean sprouts, and gorgeous fried egg — all of which are zigzagged with a blend of hot sauce and something much like a homemade ranch.
Kimchi arrives in spicy variations of cabbage, cucumber and even mango. I order the classic version on a pile of French fries, and the result is addictive.
Kimbap arrives like Korean sushi, and the rice is exceptional. Sweet grains are wrapped around swirls of pickled daikon, burdock, cucumber, carrots, jalapeno and cream cheese. Korean tacos are filled with honey-marinated chicken, and shredded pork is hand-pulled over rice. Glistening whole chicken wings are dressed in lemongrass or roasted garlic honey sauce. Rice is piled with BBQ pork ribs or grilled, sliced ribeye. And you simply can’t miss the brisket soup with broth rendered from beef bones, swirling around tiny rice noodles, cilantro, scallion and sprouts.
It is an admittedly teeny, tiny space. You might pass it if you blink. But then again, sometimes the best things come in small packages.
42-06 30th Ave., Astoria