Buk Kyung II
151 Brighton Avenue, Allston
Open MonĖSat, 11:30 a.m.Ė10:30 p.m., and Sun, 11:30 a.m.Ė9:30 p.m.
Di, MC, Vi
No valet parking
I havenít been to the original Buk Kyung, in Somervilleís Union Square, and it didnít occur to me to look into this location, which had previously been home to several unsuccessful restaurants. I stopped in when another target in the area was too full on Valentineís Day ó I do not wait in lines ó and found myself in a very unusual scene. Buk Kyung II was packed almost entirely with Korean-Americans between the ages of 17 and 28. This is a good-looking, fluently bilingual, cell-phone-equipped second-generation cohort, and they know what they want. Which ó looking around the room ó isnít Japanese food (thereís barely any on the menu), the more familiar Korean dishes such as bibimbab or bulgogi, or the pan-fried squid and vegetables I usually have when Iím tired of Korean-restaurant sushi.
These sharply dressed young people were there for plates of noodles with a jet-black sauce (there are actually four versions of this on the menu), plates of deep-fried morsels in a sticky-looking sauce (there turned out to be several variations of this one, too), and something that looks like a scallion pancake in a Mandarin Chinese restaurant. This last turned out to be the giveaway; I eventually learned that Buk Kyung is Korean for "Beijing," so this is what Korean-Americans view as Chinese-influenced Korean cooking.
Buk Kyung II has more dining space, and thus less kitchen space, than its predecessors in this location, and this makes sense, since it serves mostly permutations of the same homemade noodles, dumplings, soup, deep-fried morsels, and seafood. It offers a short menu, placing a premium on getting everything to table really fresh and hot, from the opening flight of little appetizing pickles and salads, through the scallion pancakes, and up to the big dishes. The only tea is weak barley, and the desserts are the usual ginger, green-tea, and red-bean ice cream. I didnít see ice cream served to anyone on two early-evening visits. My guess is that this cool crowd doesnít eat dessert here, instead moving on for bubble tea somewhere else.
Letís start with those condiments. On one visit, there was very fresh kimchee, spicy but not too sour; crunchy chunks of pickled daikon with a little red pepper on them; very fresh cucumber salad, with somewhat more heat; discs of fried zucchini; and a soy-sesame dip, along with a tin of sticky rice. On another visit we got the same kimchee and cucumber salad, plus a new salad of bean sprouts, and perfect pieces of onion and sweet pickled turnip to dip in a little hoisin sauce.
For actual appetizers, the scallion pancake ($6.95) was fresh and hot, but denser and greasier than I like them. A scallion-seafood pancake ($10.95) was larger and fluffier, even a little breakable, with almost as much scallion flavor and nuggets of squid for contrast. Miso soup ($1.50) is white miso, rather Japanese in style. But dumpling soup ($2.50) has a sharper, Chinese-style stock with some seaweed and two excellent Peking ravioli with gingery filling. To get those dumplings in pan-fried form, you want to order man doo ($4.50), which brings six excellent dumplings, clearly made in-house, with nice thin skins like the best Peking ravioli.
Now, about those noodles with black sauce. The basic version is ganjajang ($8.95), which features homemade noodles a little fatter than spaghetti, but so long theyíre served with scissors; long shredded zucchini and the black sauce come on the side. For $2 more, the sauce boat is also full of squid and tiny shrimp. You spoon on about three-quarters of it, then lift and eat with chopsticks and scissors. The sauce is slightly sweet and salty, but not at all like hoisin sauce, although itís about the same color. It comes with lots of fried onions and some peppers, while more elaborate and expensive versions include squid, pork, or multiple seafoods.
You can get the same noodles in large bowls of soup, for example as woodong ($8.95) or samsun woodong ($10.95). The noodles arenít as fat as Japanese udon, but they are still so long you need scissors. The broth is excellent, touched up with squid, shrimp, a single New Zealand green mussel, mushrooms, wood ear, and lots of scallions. Ulmyun ($8.95 and $10.95) is described as "chowder soup"; itís essentially the woodong thickened with some cornstarch and egg.
The fritters in sauce I found by ordering lojoki ($12.95). This is micro chicken fingers in a sauce that might be lightly sweet and sour if it werenít pretty spicy. There are some token carrots, snow peas, zucchini, bamboo, straw mushrooms, and a single piece of wood ear, but most of the roughage comes from a pile of shredded cabbage that makes a good foil for the hot sauce. Even so, this is mostly an excuse to eat fried chicken by the chopstick-size bite.
My old friend the spicy squid, here listed as ohzinguh bokum ($11.95), is cut to make dragon scales, the better to hold the usual red-pepper sauce. An additional spice asterisk or two applies because hot green chilies are part of the stir-fry, which contains mostly onions and scallions with some carrot.
The barley tea is like non-caffeinated green tea in flavor, but you should order it because a lot of the food is spicy, and there isnít much rice or water to offset that. We had to ask for water refills twice during our crowded first visit, but did better the second time. Non-alcoholic beer would actually go very well with this food, but the menu is deliberately simple. All core ingredients like stock, noodles, vegetables, and seafood are unusually fresh or well-made, so you canít really go wrong on this menu. Even the kimchee is not overly fermented.
Service was, except for the slow water refills, generally quite good. Dishes come out of the kitchen fast and not entirely in order, but this is a fair trade for their freshness. There can be a wait for the check. The staff, like the customers, speak both Korean and unaccented English. They wonít be doing this long, though ó as soon as the economy opens up or they graduate, theyíre out of here and returning as customers. One hopes their younger sisters and brothers will step in at that point.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com .