By Suzanne Parker
It was around 6:30 p.m. on a bone-chilling Wednesday. We were already in an evil mood from cruising the congested streets of Murray Hill for 20 minutes in search of a parking space.
With that accomplished, we trekked to our targeted Korean restaurant to be told that there was at least a 20-minute wait for a table, and nowhere inside said restaurant to wait.
We left our name, and set off to sullenly wander the neighborhood until it was time to claim a table.
It was during that involuntary stroll that we happened upon another dining establishment with something irresistible visible inside — empty tables.
We succumbed to our overwhelming desire for a little warmth and a place to sit.
The place we chose was done up in Brutalist style, with concrete walls, upon which visitors are encouraged, by a coffee can of felt tip markers, to contribute to the graffiti already on display.
The tabletops are set on painted oil cans which house the works of the inset gas burners. The seating is on low metal stools. Creature comforts are not a high priority.
Korean BBQ is the obvious spécialité de la maison here, especially with such not too subtle cues as the pictures of the smiling pig and cow, and pork belly platter dominating the window. We took the hint and ordered the pork belly.
Our server cut up a thick slab of pork belly, and grilled it on a dome griddle along with onions, bean sprouts and kimchee. The succulent slices of pork were served with thinly sliced rounds of daikon which were to be used like miniature tacos to contain the pork along with the vegetables and condiments. The standouts among the banchan (free accompaniments) were a crock of frothy steamed egg and cheesy roasted corn kernels.
Although they bill themselves as a BBQ joint, that’s not all they’re about. There’s a good selection of homey Korean fare. Several octopus dishes are on the menu, including one listed as “Stir-fried Webfoot Octopus.” We didn’t know octopi had feet—webbed or otherwise. We were curious enough to try it, and the results were rewarding. It was a toothsome concoction of octopus stir fried in a spicy chili based sauce. No feet were detected.
Our server warned us Bulgogi soup was spicy, but it turned out to be very gently spiced, and pronouncedly sweet. It arrived steaming in a large, earthenware casserole. In this dish, the marinated grilled beef is added to broth when served, retaining its delicate texture. The beef is joined by enoki mushrooms, peppers, and other vegetables and cellophane noodles. This is an ideal meal for a cold winter’s night.
The place didn’t stay empty for long. After preparing our BBQ, our server moved on to other patrons and forgot about us. Since no desserts were listed on the menu or offered, we decided it was again time to brave the elements. We paid our check and departed.
We learned we had eaten at Mapo II, an addition to the original Mapo BBQ next door, only from our check. The only English identifier outside is the words “Korean BBQ.”
The Bottom Line
Mapo II is pitched to young Koreans. Even if you don’t fall into that category, you can still enjoy a delicious authentic Korean meal here so long as you don’t mind sitting on hard, backless stools at tables inadequate to hold all the food you’re likely to order. If you believe tastiness trumps comfort, give Mapo II a try.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfo
149-20 41st Ave.
Price Range: BBQ intended for sharing: $15.99—54.99; Other dishes: $12.99—16.99
Cuisine: Korean BBQ and home-style fare
Setting: Small, Brutalist décor.
Service: Professional, fluent English.
Hours: Seven days lunch and dinner
Alcohol: Beer, sake and soju
Parking: Street (good luck)
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: No