By Suzanne Parker
We were on one of our regular bacon runs to the Butcher Block in Sunnyside, a purveyor of all Irish comestibles, when a sign across 41st Street for a Korean restaurant called “Doma” caught our attention.
Doma isn’t one of those Korean barbecue places you are most familiar with. Any barbecued meats on the menu get that way in the kitchen, not on an inset burner on the table. The forte here is Korean comfort food. If there is a Korean word for hygge — the trendy Danish concept translated as “coziness” — it would apply to Doma’s food.
The set menu seemed like a good way to sample a broad spectrum of the fare. It is also a good way to feed a couple of diners a lot of variety for a modest price. In this case, $26 bought us ramyun (ramen), dukboki (spicy rice cake), donkatsu (pork cutlet), and kimbap (sushi roll). In the interest of thoroughness, we supplemented that with a galbi (marinated short ribs) lunch box, and an order of Korean-style chicken wings. We washed it all down with makgeoli, a cloudy rice liquor deceptively tasty for its alcoholic impact.
Apart from the inevitable panchan, assortment of freebie tasty tidbits one can always rely on at a Korean eating establishment, our ramyun was the first dish to arrive. A selection of seafood, egg, scallions, fish cake and cabbage was awash in a prodigious bowl of challengingly spicy broth, topped by a mussel in its shell. This was a bowl that would easily stand up to the offerings at the trendier ramen joints.
Somewhere along the line, a gigundo kimbap roll appeared. Our favorite, the bugolgi version, comes crammed with seaweed, bulgogi (grilled marinated beef), spinach, carrots, fried egg, fish cake, and sweet radish, encircled by rice and nori. Kimbap may look like sushi rolls, but there are important differences. Kimbap is usually made with cooked proteins, and served on their own without wasabi or soy sauce. Korean moms often pack them in lunch boxes instead of a sandwich.
The dukboki, we have to admit, is a bit of an acquired taste. Long, chewy, cylindrical rice cakes come in a spicy sauce with fish cakes, cabbage and egg. We were grateful to have an opportunity to try something new, but for us, a little went a long way. This dish would be ideal for vegetarians (or pescatarians, anyway) craving something spicy.
The last component of our set meal was donkatsu, a breaded pork cutlet that seemed almost western. It came slathered in a slightly sweet gravy-like, vegetable-laden sauce. A couple of miscellaneous panchan were included, some white rice, and a portion of ice berg lettuce topped with dressing and a mystery powder that turned out to be coconut. All in all, a most satisfying combination.
Our extras also starting arriving. The LA Galbi box, one of those black and red lacquered partitioned things, sported thin slices of marinated, grilled short ribs consorting with rice, salad, and a couple more panchan.
The final entry in this procession of deliciousness was the Korean chicken wings. Out of a choice of soy/garlic, sweet, BBQ, buffalo or spicy, we chose the soy/garlic. These pups were lacquered to perfection with exterior crunch, interior juiciness, and enticing flavor.
The Bottom Line
Doma deserves to be placed firmly in the “Rare Find” category. The food is fresh, expertly prepared, and delicious. The prices are almost unimaginably modest. The surroundings are clean and inviting. To us, places like this are what make living in Queens such a pleasure.
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