Myong Dong

In the last blog posting on a Ghanaian restaurant serving a good rendition of the West African dish, Fufu, (read blog),  I mentioned its location round the corner from a favorite Korean haunt of mine. Myong Dong has been in the same strip mall since I visited it for the first time during my graduate school days 26 years ago (OMG!!). Ever since then, I paid it many visits during lunch time on days when school was out or during the holidays. I never considered writing about this place due to the infrequent stop-in’s, but recently, I realized that it was worth mentioning this eatery on my blog site.


Walking in the space, you are confronted by a neat looking space with simple yet appealing wooden tables and chairs. After placing the order and being served some water or hot barley tea, an array of different side dishes would appear in front of the diner. I must say that I am fond of this aspect of Korean cuisine, and I have had my fair share of these preludes to the meal. What Myong Dong serves up is not the same quantity as some other establishments, but the few, around 3 or 4, are best judged for their quality and flavors. The Kimchi tastes quite fresh and having been given the proper marination, the Napa cabbage is slightly wilted while tasting spicy from some chili and ginger, and slightly sour to balance the flavors. Another dish is pickled Daikon. Cubes of the white root vegetable is still crunchy without tasting raw, exuding some sweet and rice-vinegar sourness, good enough for one to ask for another serving and sip that sweet vinegary liquor. Pickled Cucumber is also another mainstay. Pieces of unwaxed baby cucumber tasting slightly crunchy from its skin and soft on the inside have been marinated with some chili paste and vinegar. Infrequently, Pickled Green Chilies make an appearance, exuding its natural capsaicin heat along with its pickling of soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar. I must say that I would devour these sides before my main course, and I always ask for refills during my meal. If I could, I would make a meal out of them for they are just oh-so-good.


It would be amiss to eat at a Korean restaurant without trying their Mandu or Stuffed Dumplings. For many years, I would order their lunch specials, and the dishes would arrived with a couple of these fried small bites as part of the combination. Each time, I was taken aback by how good they were. So, on one visit, I placed an order from the appetizer section which comes in either 6 or 12 pieces. This separate order only reaffirmed my take on them: the perfectly crispy thin skin encapsulated a meat stuffing that was both fragrant, with a good hit of white pepper, and savory at the same time, making one to savor every morsel of these tasty delights. As if these dumplings were not good enough, there is a side sauce that takes them beyond the stratosphere with the flavors of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and perhaps Mirin, making it a completely sippable elixir. These small fellows do make big strides indeed on the tongue with their awesomeness.


Lunch time is usually the time for my visits to this place in order for me to take advantage of the reasonably priced lunch specials. Most of the offerings are marinated meats served in Bento-styled boxes. One of my favorites is Spicy Pork. What arrives is grilled meat tasting spicy from a good marination with some chili paste and slightly sweet to balance the heat, mixed with some sweet peppers and onions. What I appreciate about the meats here is that they are properly marinated for a length of time before sweating it out on the grill; the same goes for the beef and chicken orders. Accompanying the meat are usually some rice, a simply crispy salad, those irresistible fried dumplings, some pieces of fried tofu in sauce, and a slice of fruit – a true balance of Ying and Yang. With those delectable side dishes to go along with the main dish, what more could I ask for during my lunch time?


Another order from the lunch special menu is Rice Bowl. The bowl arrives with pretty much the elements of the previous dish: grilled marinated meat, salad, and fried dumplings, strands of egg and toasted seaweed sheets, all sitting on a mound of rice. But here, there is an addition of chili paste to be mixed in with all the aforementioned, allowing the diner to control the amount of chili heat to one’s liking. So depending on my mood, I would order this bowl when I want all the parts coming together, or the box if I am in the mood for something deconstructed. Either way, both are winners in my stomach.


Beyond the lunch specials, I found a couple of dishes that are also in my repertoire of favorites, Be Beam Naeng Myun being the first. The bowl arrives with a mound of cold buckwheat noodle topped with some spicy bean sauce, slices of pickled daikon, raw cucumber, slices of cooked brisket, a boiled egg, all sitting on a pool of chilled sauce.   A couple of scissor snips of the noodle and a good mix of the elements brought the dish together to its gestalt height.  Every element contributed to that effect with the rather firm noodles, the sweet spicy paste, the vinegary daikon, the cool crunchy cucumber, the beefy brisket, the rich egg, all enveloped by the savory chilled sauce laced with fragrant sesame oil.  This dish is a definite hit for me, especially while we are still enveloped by the summer heat.


The other dish is like the above, a noodle dish, but in a spicy soup form – Jam Pong. The bowl arrived with some thick noodles swimming in a fiery red soup, with bits of mussels, pork, squid and baby corn accompanying the main starch.  The seafood was perfectly cooked, tasting sea sweet and fresh, the vegetables cooked and adding their vegetal sweetness, and the noodles tasting home-made and al dente.  But it was the soup that brought the tasty bits together, with its depth in flavor and spiciness that was both searing and alluring.  In the last couple of orders, the mussels were overcooked, and I will make it a point to request the kitchen not to overcook them since I truly enjoy this spicy noodle bowl.


On a number of visits, I noticed that some diners were feasting on some Fried Chicken. With that in mind, I decided to try their rendition which comes in half or whole chicken.  My order was the half bird chopped up into large pieces, dipped in batter and deep-fried.  One bite into a piece revealed its true nature.  The batter was not the seasoned flour type, but a barely seasoned rice flour coating. The meat was cooked through, including the pieces of breast meat that were still moist, but again, not as seasoned as I thought.  A dip into the side salt mixture was the secret in its eating that provided the necessary seasoning and flavors that “woke” these pieces up.  In other words, the pieces of poultry was the canvas to the salt seasoning that was a secret (according to Mrs. Chef) mixture of salt, chili powder, and other ingredients that made it de rigueur for these crunchy bites.  Once I could wrap my brain around this distinctive approach of fried chicken, I began to enjoy and appreciate this unique version. However, I would have preferred the poultry cooked a couple of minutes more, and I will request such an order for that extra crispiness.

It has been hard thinking of a Korean eating establishment to write on, but ultimately, I resorted to a place that I have been patronizing all these years since I have been living in Maryland.  Yes, it is not a big space nor do they offer a wide variety of dishes usually found in bigger eateries.  But I have always enjoyed their marinated meat lunch specials, fried chicken and the noodle dishes, as well as those side dishes that keep calling my name every time I take a seat there.  Now with  lunch specials offered the whole day on Sundays, I have another reason to indulge in these Korean treats.



Bonchon RestaurantIn my estimation, all Korean restaurants must have good food, or at least every one that I have visited and savored their offerings. Who can resist the marinated meats that are grilled in front of you that exude sweet savory or spicy hot flavors, accompanied by the myriad of cold side dishes that could make a vegetarian’s eyes roll back and make anyone feel sated by the variety in their flavors and cooking techniques, alongside the ubiquitous Kimchi that titillated the taste buds. I guess the Koreans are equally gastronomically obsessed much like the other Asian groups that surround the native peninsula: the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean. But which restaurant can I pick and do a write-up on when there is a plethora of good Korean establishments in the DMV?

So when a fellow gourmand suggested a Korean eatery that has been written up by Esquire Magazine, GQ Magazine, and the New York Times for their famous fried chicken, I had to venture into this establishment and find out what the hype was all about. My fore mentioned friend and I decided to meet up at Bonchon Restaurant for lunch a couple of times before my writing of this review. Bonchon has two locations, one in Ellicot City, MD, and the other in the heart of Koreatown, Annandale, VA. We decided to meet in the Ellicot City branch, south of Baltimore city, located off the Baltimore National Pike (Route 40), a busy strip replete with other Korean eateries, indicative of the high Korean population in that area. Finding it is a little bit tricky since it is behind a strip mall facing the main street – Google Maps and GPS are life-savers in these situations.

Spicy Potstickers

For starters, one of my friend’s company ordered the popular Potstickers, or Mandu in the vernacular. Usually, it comes in a steamer soft from the hot vapors and with a nearly translucent dough. However, here we find this dumplings deep-fried and glowing orange with a quick dip in some hot sauce. These bits were irresistible with the crispy greaseless thin dough enveloping the fresh tasting savory filling – a perfect study of contrast between the crispy outer and the soft moist filling. The thin layer of spicy coating elevated these bites beyond their usual guise and I was perplexed by how the skin remained crispy despite the coating of sauce. The perfect starter indeed, one to amuse the bouche.


TakoyakiThe other starter is a Japanese classic, Takoyaki.  These are dough balls made with a rice flour mixture with bits of octopus and cooked in a specially made iron-caste pan. These round bites are interesting with a cooked skin as the exterior enveloping a filling that is quite “gooey” punctuated by bits of cooked octopus. The pieces of seafood were tender but the gooey dough could be a textural issue for some. Shavings of bonito flakes added more savoriness to this starter along with some slathering of Japanese mayonnaise and a sweet-and-sour sauce that put me in a je-ne-sais-quoi mind probe. The slivers of raw cabbage added the necessary textural and sweet flavor contrast to these moist bites. Another party-in-the-mouth meal opener.

Kimchi Coleslaw & Pickled Radish

No Korean meal is complete without the myriad of cold side dishes that complement the main dishes. Here at Bonchon, these sides are not complementary of the house like in most places, which is unfortunate in my mind. But I decided to order a couple of them to try them out. Here, they offer the traditional Kimchi and also an updated version of it called the Kimchi Coleslaw. As you can figure it out, it is a combination of the traditional pickled vegetables with typical ingredients found in Coleslaw. In this dish, you can savor the bits of pickled Kimchi and the freshness of the raw slaw ingredients, all married together by a dash of creamy mayonnaise and a good hit of garlic. I must say I quite enjoyed this melange of flavors and ingredients. An order of the omnipresent Pickled Radish was not quite as successful. It lacked more time sitting in the pickling solution since the bits of Daikon still tasted a bit raw, and the flavor profile was calling for more saccharine – the only time that I would be wanting for more of this much maligned sugar substitute.

BibimbopFor lunch, this eatery offers a few lunch dishes at a very reasonable price. The first I tasted was Bibimbob. A beautiful stoneware bowl arrived on my table with an equally delightful assemblage of various ingredients that covered a mound of sticky rice: Beef Bulgogi, cooked watercress, marinated shiitake mushrooms, raw carrots, squash, with a raw egg yolk nestled in the middle with bits of nori seaweed, all topped by a sprinkling of nutty sesame seeds – basically, a Korean deconstructed meal. The idea is to add the side of sweet spicy sauce and to mix it all up as the heated stoneware cooks the egg yolk and heats the dish up. The prominent star among the many ingredients is the marinated beef that tasted deep and complex in flavor with its very savory marinade. I thoroughly enjoyed this “interactive” dish and finishing the dish savoring the bits of slightly crispy rice at the bottom of the bowl.

Salmon Rice "Bowl"

On another occasion, I ordered the Salmon Rice Bowl. My dish came in a rectangular plate, which prompted me to ask the waitress if they had got the order wrong – yes, it was the Rice “Bowl”, but “updated” to a modern dish. I must say I was rather disappointed at first since the traditional Rice Bowl comes with many ingredients like the above Bibimbob, but the difference being that it is not cooked in an earthenware. Accompanying the slab of salmon were a mound of rice and some unseasoned huge carrot sticks along with equally unseasoned broccoli florets. The salmon was perfectly pan grilled on the outside but the inside was stone cold and nearly completely raw. If this were seared sushi, it would have been completely acceptable. Unfortunately, it was not so and I just ate it as such. Yeah, rather disappointing for a Rice “Bowl.”

Korean Fried Chicken.

Korean Fried ChickenOK, the main reason why we are here for is that much raved about Fried Chicken. On our second trip, my friend had brought some company and so we decided to order an X-tra large combination plate with one half flavored Soy Garlic and the other Hot Spicy, the only two flavors offered. After quite a wait for our order (I had been warned about the wait), we dug in immediately. “Ummm”, “Wow”, “uhuh”, (guttural noises), (noise of biting sounds), (silence), (licking fingers) ….. This experience brought to mind Madonna’s Bedtime Story, “Today is the last day that I’m using words. They’ve gone out, lost their meaning.” Well, bringing words back, I will try to describe these tasty morsels. I was totally amazed by how the chicken pieces were cooked, with a lightly battered and very crispy skin with all fat rendered away, this covering perfectly moist and tender chicken meat that was not bland nor over-seasoned, and the light coating of sauce was the perfect amount and flavoring the whole bite, adding the right punch of salty, sweet, garlic, or chili spice. The pieces were completely irresistible and they did not last too long on the large white platter. If going solo, it is possible to order a lunch plate with a serving of between four to eight pieces. Wow, can I take a breath now after this orgiastic feasting?

Bonchon sets itself apart from traditional Korean eating establishments by upgrading its style to a more modern approach. There are some downfalls to that from the non-complementary side dishes (limited offerings) to the disappointing Rice “Bowl”. But what they do well, the dishes are worth mentioning, from the spicy Potstickers, to the tasty and funky Takoyaki, to the interactive Bibimbob cooked in a stoneware bowl, and most notably, the house special of that divine Fried Chicken. This dish is worth making the hike to either Annandale or Ellicot City for these tasty morsels that speaks for itself, and this KFC (Korean FC) will put the Colonel Sander’s version to shame any day.

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