Friday, May 15, 2009


I’m not a restaurant reviewer and my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt (방향염).
by Charlie Leck

I had lunch out today with a beautiful woman at a little Korean joint (with emphasis on the “oint”) called Dong Yang! I always feel a little guilty about these weekday adventures when my wife can’t be along, but I decided, what the heck, I’m going to relax and have fun.

Dong Yang is out there north of Nordeast Minneapolis in the not very well know community of Hilltop. Might seem like a journey, but it’s not really. A drive straight out Central Avenue to 45th Avenue NE is a pleasant enough journey. There are so many new places along the street that it will amaze the locals who haven’t been out that way in a while. I saw ethnic establishments that, as a young man, I never dreamed I’d see in our small town of Minneapolis. There were so many Halal markets that I couldn’t believe it – from the Jerusalem Market to Holyland Deli. If you're looking for markets and delis that feature Afghanistanian, Iranian, Russian, Slavic, Urkranian or African products, you can find them as you journey through the wonderful Northeast part of town. And, there are still the wonderful old Italian and German establishments surviving out there, too, right along with the typically American bars and grills.

However, this was a preplanned trip and our sights were set on Dong Yang. At 45th Street we hung a left off Central Avenue and went west a few blocks. There it was. It was larger than I was expecting, but I was soon to find out that the space was for the grocery and produce section of the store. The dining area was crammed back in a far corner and it provided a less than spectacular dining view of the shelving out in the grocery store Oh well, we didn’t come for the view.

The reviews I had read of the place said that we wouldn’t be made to feel particularly welcome; however that wasn’t true at all. Well spoken clerks made us feel comfortable the instant we walked through the doors. Eyes sparkled at us and smiles were as wide as old Broadway.

We stepped right up and, after a very slight wait in line, placed our orders. A couple of items had been recommended to me and I was anxious to try them. The Bipimbap, which is simple to pronounce but slides all over my tongue when I try to say it, is high on the recommendation list of friends who’ve been to Dong Yang, so we went for that and also for the Short Rib Grill (#12 on the menu). My gorgeous date is more adventurous than I and she approaches everything as a learning experience and she was asking everyone questions about nearly everything and it seemed longer than the Stone Age before we finally settled in at a table. I’ve been out with her before, however, and I was prepared to be patient. She is scientific about dining out and she has an approach that is tried and true. She knows more about Twin City restaurants than any other person I know and that includes all the fancy reviewers from the paper and city magazines.

The tea, coffee and water were included in the price of our meals. We each had a Styrofoam cup of a plain, but satisfying tea. Well, our orders were dished up for us after only a pleasant wait. A sweet Korean gentleman, older than I for sure, helped us gather our food and get it back to our table and he recommended an extraordinary ketchup that was nothing really like ketchup.

We dug first into the bipimbap and I was hooked. I didn’t care about all the other food that surrounded us. This dish was entrancing and immediately hooked me. I’ll be honest about this, so listen hard: If I had to order a last dish in life, to enjoy before I die, it might be the bipimbap from Dong Yang.

Bipimbap, if I understood correctly, simply means "mixed up rice." Well, that it is so, but it is so much more. The rice is mixed up with a lot of wonderful vegetables and a touch of sea weed and then its grilled in a sort-of stone pot and the rice touching the pot gets all crispy and crunchy and so do some of the vegetables. Just before it's served, an egg is cracked open and dropped on to all this mixed up, wonderful food. The jumble of flavors is remarkable and tantalizing.

I’d brought my wonderful camera along and I began snapping close-ups of our food before the tasting began. The flash attracted a lot of attention and I just pretended I didn’t notice.

I was surprised by some panchan items that had been unexpectedly served to us. It’s traditional that Korean meals are accompanied with a number of these little samples side dishes.

So, what we had in front of us looked like more than either of us could really consume – even together. Yet, we’d try.

I liked each of the panchan items without exception. Their flavors seemed to enhance the delights I was discovering in the bipimbap.

The grilled short ribs were extremely tasty, but there were times when I really just couldn’t chew some of the pieces of meat. It was quite extraordinary. The meat wasn’t tough and actually seemed to be tender. It just wouldn't break up very well at the command of my teeth. If I had a steak knife I would have cut it into small little bits and then I probably would have given that dish a top rating also. As it was, I wouldn’t actually order them again.

The cooks at work at Dong Yang

We spent a lot of time over our lunch. It’s the kind of food that encourages you to dine slowly and chat as you eat. We did, and a lot of ground got covered. Eventually, though, we gave up our table and the kind little gentleman helped us bus our dishes. He also went out into the store with me and helped me find the tasty ketchup-type condiment I’d tried with my lunch.

We bought a handful of little items and questioned a clerk at length about the way bipimbap is prepared. It seemed so complicated and time consuming that we decided we’d just come back to Dong Yang to enjoy it.

I’ve got to add that the clerks in the grocery store could not have been nicer and they spent time with us as if we were regular and important customers. They were very cheery and polite.

Hilltop, in which Dong Yang resides, is a tiny little suburban community of working class homes and it couldn’t be neater or prettier. We drove around its streets for a few moments and we were mighty impressed with the attractive lawns, the colorful flowers and the well-maintained homes from the 50s.

On the way back home, we stopped at a few of the other markets and delis that line Central Avenue all the way into the city, but I’ll save a description of that part of our adventure for another time.

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