Deliciousness often comes when you least expect it. On Saturday, I’d gone to the Olly Olly Market in hopes of trying Zingerman’s famous Reuben sandwich, which had arrived here from Ann Arbor, Michigan for a single day. But my spirits sank as I skulked in around noon, only to find a line that snaked around the food court, trailed down the hallway, went out the door to 11th Avenue, then down the block and around the corner, filled with fidgety customers wearing University of Michigan sweatshirts.
Well, I needed to eat something, so I examined my options. My eyes fell on Ddobar (“see you later” in Korean). This offshoot of Korean Michelin-starred restaurant Joomak Banjum from chefs Jiho Kim and Sechul Yang specializes in a kind of sushi called yubu tart, which is basically a piece of raw fish on top of a deep-fried tofu pouch filled with rice. The 14-seat, horseshoe-shaped counter offers an 11-course lunch and dinner omakase for $75 that, as I found out, is a spectacular deal (even with Resy stating it’s a 13-course meal). The omakase is an update from the opening menu, which featured entirely a la carte ordering and it reflects a growing trend of tasting menus in food halls.
The meal starts at the counter with something called cacio e pepe — but the pasta is missing. Instead, a jiggly egg yolk hides in a frothy slurry of Parmesan with a bit of crunch. The effect is like breakfast and makes a nice intro to the meal.
The repast unfolds in a succession of bold flavors and visual delights: A server delivers a bowl with fluke sashimi surrounded by miniature cucumber slices, green herb oil, and edible flower petals. Cold watermelon juice is poured into the bowl. A big caramelized scallop cut in shards is concealed beneath a brown-butter dashi foam, which complements the sweetness of the scallop, and toasted kernels of corn lurk underneath. The sauce at the bottom is like a liquid sea-salt caramel.
Next, a rich swatch of amberjack meets rice flavored with yuzu (there’s also a generous heap of osetra caviar on top); while a slice of ponzu-cured salmon rubbed with everything-bagel spices, and fresh horseradish grated on top, has cream cheese mixed in with the rice, which pretty much recreates all the elements of a favorite bagel preparation.
Nods to New York classics doesn’t stop there: Duck breast pastrami tastes exactly like a slice of Katz’s, fat rim and all. When a cook steps up to ask if you want chile oil on top, of course you do.
One of the best bites comes from a swatch of lobster shining bright red under a foam made with nori — the idea of a Japanese hand roll roll is there, but miraculously transformed. And the lobster butter left in the bottom tastes like an oceanic elixir.
By the time a seared beef short rib rolls around after ten or so courses, it seems like the entrée has finally arrived. The slats of meat are crazed with streaks of fat like a red river delta, and the sides have been seared for that smoky and fatty steakhouse flavor. Pickled daikon slivers are interleaved between slices of meat, and shredded leeks fried to crunchiness sit atop.
I haven’t bothered describing the ebi shrimp or the bluefin tuna tataki wrapped in a vertical cylinder of laver; both were good in their own way, but not quite as dynamic as the other courses. Between dishes landing in front of me, I sipped a glass of white Alsatian Sylvaner ($18), tart and heavy enough to stand up to the strong flavors of the meal. It finished with a cup of earl gray soft serve ice cream, with a slightly bitter edge that tea provides.
As I left the food court, I estimated that around 300 people were still waiting for their pastrami sandwiches.