Dok Suni
119 1st Avenue
(betw’n 7th Street and St. Marks Place)
East Village
(212) 477-9506

by Kelly Sipos

My preamble:

I am neither Jesse Post nor Rachael Parenta. By that I mean I’m not some renowned Internet food critic or your run-of-the-mill finicky eater/stand-up comedian from Brooklyn. (See in-joke here.) Now, I don’t usually write about food. I’m more of a bar critic or hockey enthusiast. But I couldn’t resist the lure of All You Can Eat NYC any longer, and today I would like to tell you about my favorite restaurant in all of New York.

I am a native New Yorker who grew up in an Irish/Hungarian household in Washington Heights. My Irish mother did her best with the cooking but really, it was just meat and potatoes — boring except for the few “exotic” dishes (the two Hungarian dishes she attempted to make for my father). My father, regardless of what he was eating, always had a jar of hot peppers by his side. I think it was this jar of hot peppers that scared me from trying the spicier side of the dinner menu for most of my life. So that’s how I grew up to be a boring meat-and-potatoes girl.

That all changed in the fall of 1997 when I first walked into Dok Suni and my friends Holly and Jon introduced me to Korean food. Well, that’s actually a lie; my friend in high school, Chu, introduced me to Korean food back in 1988. But to be honest, we only ever went to this one place because they served underage kids piña coladas. In ’88 I was only interested in girly drinks with umbrellas, not delicious spicy food. I can’t even remember the name of that place anymore, but I’m not here to promote underage drinking anyway.

Now where was I? Ah yes — the fall of ’97. I must admit I wasn’t very adventurous when I first went to Dok Suni. I picked the safest thing I could find on the menu (a lovely noodle dish called Japchae) because I thought it would be like vegetable lo mein. Boy, was I wrong. Japchae is made with potato noodles sautéed in a sesame sauce, neither of which I like too much. Nevertheless, it was the only thing I was willing to order from Dok Suni for the first few months. Holly ordered this appetizer called D’uk-Bo-Ki; traditional sticky rice cakes sautéed in a spicy red pepper and garlic sauce. I later found out from the Dok Suni cookbook that this dish is cooked with brown sugar — no wonder I love it. This is the dish that opened my eyes to what I was missing, and has brought me back to Dok Suni again and again and again. And again.

It wasn’t until the spring of ’98 when I decided to try something different. My next venture was Dok Suni’s Gui — thin steak strips sautéed with broccoli, red and green peppers, whole garlic and mushrooms. This dish became my next months-long obsession even though the garlic breath didn’t help my social life.

I can’t remember when I got out of my comfort zone and started trying everything on the menu. Suffice it to say that eventually, I couldn’t get enough of this place. I started bringing all my friends and out-of-towners in for the D’uk-Bo-Ki alone. Almost everything here is exciting and new and, dare I say it, “exotic” to my meat-and-potatoes palate.

However, if you’re a big chicken like I was the first time, you will want to start with the Kim-Bohp which is like sushi only it’s filled with rice, spinach, egg, carrot, marinated cooked beef, and pickled daikon. Follow that with the Kalbi — grilled prime beef short ribs marinated Korean style (a little sweet but OH SO delicious) or the Bulgogi (also prime beef marinated Korean style but without the bone). Other “safe” options would be the dumplings, spring rolls, kimchi, or potato pancakes. I’m not a fan of pancake dishes as they tend to be greasy (but they are probably good for a hangover).

If you’re willing to jump in head first (and are not afraid of garlic), try the D’uk-Bo-Ki or the Seywoo Bokum (shrimp with asparagus) for appetizers. Follow that up with Spicy Broiled Pork Ribs or Deji-Bulgogi (thin slices of pork marinated in a spicy chili pepper sauce).

If you happen to be vegetarian then you might want to try the Bibimbop. This traditional Korean dish has rice, spinach, daikon, zucchini, carrots, sprouts, red pepper sauce, and an over-easy egg. You can get it hot or cold and with or without beef (and with or without the egg). I like this but it is a little bland — the secret to making it great is to add the sauce from the D’uk-Bo-Ki appetizer. In fact, that’s the secret to making anything taste great. Hell, I would eat my shoe if it were covered in D’uk-Bo-Ki sauce. Other vegetarian dishes include Jesse’s pick, the Kimchi Bo-Kum (kimchi and tofu stir fried in sesame oil).

The only downfall of this great little place is that it doesn’t do dessert (and if you know me at all, you know I love my sweets). They do offer a lovely ginger and cinnamon shot at the end of your meal. Oh, the other downfall is that it tends to get busy by 7:30 pm. If your party is four or less you can usually get a table within 20 minutes.

So that’s how I further matured to be an exotic, spicy, adventurous girl (though meat and potatoes still have their place, of course). For the past few years I’ve gone to Dok Suni every week. Dok Suni night has replaced my childhood pizza night — what an upgrade! Pizza and beer is always a staple but how can that ever compare to pork ribs and a saketini? This cozy little place has become a second home for me, where everyone knows my name. Well, maybe not my name but they do all know I like the orange saketinis.