BY BRADLEY HAWKS
Yes, it is official. There is a new KFC on Broadway in Astoria. And by KFC, of course we mean Korean Fried Chicken. Specifically, fried chicken wings glazed in spicy Korean garlic sauce. But the fried chicken is such a miniscule part of what is being offered at the new Korean eatery, we focused on a whole selection of other dishes to share. The former 1-800-Flowers shop has now officially blossomed into Mokja.
“It’s a friendly way of saying, ‘Let’s Eat,’” explains one server.
Mokja is the sister to Korean Express, the more informal takeout restaurant in Manhattan. The Mokja menu features well over 50 items, covering a broader spectrum of Korea’s deliciously colorful cuisine.
While K-Pop bounces joyously overhead, don’t expect everything to follow tradition. The banchan—or side dishes—have been judiciously edited. A tandem ramekin will arrive at the table holding a delicate stack of kimchi and golden medallions of danmuji, better known as pickled daikon radish. These are intended to simply whet the palate and prepare you for the meal to come.
So why not order something small to get the meal started? Like a pile of fries topped with kimchi, gochujang mayo and cilantro. Or perhaps Mokja’s intensely delicious version of steamed dumplings—or order them fried. In Korean, these little potstickers are called mandoo, and they make them at Mokja from scratch. A generous meatball of minced pork with vegetables and spices is wrapped in a thin pasta skin, pinched together into a half moon, and plopped in the steamer.
Soups and stews are also plentiful. One of the most robust versions is their Army Stew, a spicy bowl of kimchi, pork, tofu, spam, sausage, rice cakes and ramen noodles. Other classic dishes include versions of pajeon (scallion pancakes) and ddukboki (spicy rice cakes). And of course they serve a few tasty versions of bibimbap—the popular egg-topped Korean rice medley—which is even available in a stone bowl.
The barbecue seems to be where the chef shines, and some of the most popular dishes include the kalbi (short ribs), pork bulbogi (thinly shaved marinated pork shoulder), pork belly and baby back ribs. Fried rice reigns supreme in a variety of combos as well. But we recommend trying the bulgogi sliders. Bulgogi literally translates to “fire meat” in Korean.
If you want to stay on the healthier side, perhaps you should try some of their fantastic japchae. Glass noodles made from sweet potatoes are sautéed with a blend of vegetables and your choice of meat. Hearty mushrooms and sprouts provide contrasting textures, and a scrambled egg is playfully laid across the top.
For the time being, desserts are minimal (mochi and crème brûlée), and the restaurant is still awaiting a liquor license. The minimalistic décor includes several lovingly decorated chalkboard menus—one of which previews coming drinks (including soju), and another which maps out the architecture of a bibimbap burger, which will soon be on the menu in a new burger section.
Apparently, there are several things still to come. But in the meantime, there is plenty already there that will make you want to say, “Mokja!”
35-19 Broadway, Astoria