New York doesn’t have a lot of options for kalguksu, homey Korean knife-cut noodles. Those few that exist — Kun Sohn Korean Noodle House, Arirang, and the temporarily closed Dae Sung Kalguksu — have made the competitive, Korean enclave of Murray Hill, Queens, their home. But now, there’s a newcomer to the neighborhood, one that prides itself on fastidiously prepared Korean comfort foods.
At Jang Dok Dae, located at 149-22 41st Avenue between 41st and Barclay avenues, kalguksku is king. Owners Karen Yang and Kay Ko, who are married and gleaned their noodle expertise at Kun Sohn, created a small menu dominated by 23 versions of the noodle soup.
Nearly all elements of the dishes are made in-house. Made from a simple recipe calling for flour, salt, oil, water and anchovy broth, kalguksu and its less popular cousin, the hand-torn sujebi, are commonly made at home.
But at Jang Dok Dae, Ko grates the Japanese mountain yam called nagaimo to add extra “stickiness” to the bouncy noodles. Lotus root powder and mulberry leaf extract also join the mix, with the goal of boosting the noodles’ nutritional and digestive properties. For the broth, he grinds dried shiitake mushrooms, pollack and anchovy, and adds them to a stock of radish and cabbage; the resulting broth serves as the base for most of the noodle soups. It’s custom to balance the savory mildness of kalguksu with a side of fresh, unfermented cabbage kimchi called gutjuri, and Jang Dok Dae’s version is made in-house.
“We try to get as close as possible to the experience of a traditional home-cooked meal that a family would make and eat in Korea,” says Yang. “We use all natural, not artificial ingredients.”
Toppings in each kalguksu option are abundant as well. The mixed seafood kalguksu is loaded with blue crab, shrimp, mussels and clams, while the popular bajirak noodles have at least 20 clams in the shell.
The meticulous attitude toward homestyle cooking applies elsewhere on the menu, too. For samgyetang, a ginseng chicken soup typically eaten on hot days, Ko stuffs chicken with with mungbean, sweet rice, jujube, ginseng, gingko and walnut before cooking it on a bed of medicinal Asian herbs like astragalus for about two hours. He keeps the cooked chicken and the broth separate until it’s served to keep the dish fresh.
Other non-kalguksu dishes include daegutang, a spicy codfish stew that features a firm swirl of codfish intestine; yookgaejang, a rich beef and vegetable soup that’s punched up with a homemade chile oil; and a meat, flower and veggie wrap platter called kotssambab, starring pansies, cornabria blossoms, mulberry leaf and black kale in addition to the typical lettuce and sesame leaf and a choice of bulgogi or spicy pork.
Even the rich and earthy burdock tea — also prepared in house — deviates from the standard barley tea given at most Korean restaurants.
Jang Dok Dae is open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.