In The Midnight Hour: BCD Tofu House in Koreatown
Just before dawn on a Monday.
Koreatown's stretch of 32nd Street between 5th and Broadway might just have the largest concentration of 24-hour restaurants in the city. (There are 12 in total.) A true late-night oasis, the street dubbed "Korea Way" boasts all manner of restaurants specializing in gogi gui, the DIY-method of grilling proteins and vegetables at your table. At its best, Korean barbecue delivers textures, flavors, and aromas beyond compare.
But a restaurant that focuses on tofu? BCD Tofu House has barbecue too—with positively modern circular copper grill hoods, no less—but as its name suggests, this place is all about the bean curd. It comes as part of a salad, in a dish of spicy pork loin and kimchi, and piled into soups mixed with everything from tender oysters to kimchi and pork dumplings.
I arrived slightly before dawn after a weekend in Rhode Island spent depleting the last of the state's Four Loko supply. Greeted with an open door, I entered and stood by the bar. There was no one there to greet me, nor a waiter in sight. A lone couple—the man at least 20 years the woman's senior—sat at a table, earthenware pots in front of them and numerous bottles of soju (a distilled beverage) scattered at their sides. For the duration of my meal, they continually left their table; sometimes alone, sometimes together, supping on their meals in between.
When the waiter finally approached, I was treated to a quizzical glance before being seated. A cavalcade of banchan (free appetizers that Korean restaurants provide) arrived shortly thereafter—cucumber pickles, marinated greens, kimchi, pickled daikon, and, best of all, a whole fried fish.
The fried fish was the standout of the bunch, owing to its greaseless crunch, edible bones, and flaky meat (and because, hell, it's a fried fish and you rarely see them as part of most banchan). Greens had a nice snap and came studded with sesame seeds, and the kimchi tasted of acceptable fermentation, with an almost fizzy sourness on the tongue.
BCD is a Korean chain, and one of the most talked-about dishes on the menu is their raw spicy crab ($10.95). Smothered in gochuchang and mingled with fiery peppers, the crustaceans are served in primal halves, requiring the diner to stab into the crab carcass with chopsticks in order to extract the silken flesh.
A tofu salad ($10.95) came with underwhelming wilted greens and out-of-place olives, but the tofu itself was the stuff of vegan wet dreams—light as meringue and coated in a crisply fried batter. (It was the dish's only saving grace.)
Yes, you can get the tofu soup with your choice of add-ons from land and sea, but I'm a firm believer in using the simplest items as a litmus test. Placed on the table at a rolling boil, the plain tofu soup ($11.95) lived up to its name, the broth exhibiting a subtle flavor; the quivering mounds of tofu bolstered by a dipping sauce of soy, red pepper oil, scallions and sesame seeds.
It was light outside when I exited the restaurant, leaving my knackered dining companions still poking at their plates. Narrowly avoiding people on their way to work, I wasn't entirely sure that this meal still constituted "late night eats". BCD makes an excellent case for tofu as a breakfast food.