Sweet + Savory in NYC: Mono + Mono
When a friend suggested we visit Mono + Mono in New York City’s East Village, she told me they had (and I do quote) “the best Korean fried chicken ever”. She had me at ‘fried’.
So even though I had a super long day at the New York Times Travel Show, even though I was over thirty blocks away at a midtown hotel near the Javits Center, and even though it was darkest night in coldest winter, I made the trek down to the East Village for dinner last weekend. And it was so worth it.
Because the chicken is what brought me here, I’ll address that first. It’s definitely the best fried chicken–Korean or otherwise–that I’ve ever had. We ordered a medium portion of the soy garlic and a medium portion of the hot and spicy for the table. I was wisely advised to try to the soy garlic first–so I wouldn’t burn my palate on the hot and spicy (which were quite hot and spicy!) Surprisingly, I preferred the flavor of the soy garlic over the spicy version. It allowed the flavor of the chicken to rise to the forefront; it seems that standard fried buffalo wings are doused in super spicy sauce for a good reason–to cover up the dense, greasy chicken underneath. The chicken at Mono + Mono was at once crispy, juicy, and somehow not dripping with fat–despite the fact that it is fried not once, but twice.
But the chicken–amazing as it was–was not the star of the evening.
Nor was the jeon sampler. Jeon is (are?) traditional Korean pancakes, and Mono + Mono offers up four different varieties: pepper, shitake, seafood, and pork. They also offer a sampler plate containing all four–which of course I ordered (solely for the sake of reviewing. Oh the things I do for you, Suitcase Scholar readers!) While the shitake jeon was earthy and delicious, and the seafood jeon was creamy and satisfying, this was not the highlight of the meal either.
The corn-on-the-cob, which is rolled in cotija cheese and paprika, was a salty-sweet side-on-a-stick, reminiscent of kettle corn. The simple-sounding garlic seafood rice was a riot of flavors and the squid was perfectly cooked. The award-winning crab and tuna roll was at once spicy, crunchy and creamy. This roll really did have everything going for it–and passed the ultimate sushi roll test. It did not require soy, ginger, or wasabi; it was a roll that could stand on its own.
Yet all of those admittedly amazing dishes paled in comparison to the sleeper hit of the night–the crispy pork bun. Please hold for a moment as I wipe the drool off of my keyboard so I can continue writing…
Seriously. Go here. Order the pork buns. No–scratch that. Go here and order everything I just described, but make sure you also order the pork buns.
I do not even have a good photo of the pork buns. Why? Because it isn’t a very attractive dish (and at this point in the meal, my hands were too full of food to hold a camera). But you don’t need to see a photo of the pork bun to know that you want to eat the pork bun. What you do need to know is this: it was, hands down, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Because what it really is is this–marinated pork served on a doughnut.
Imagine a pork-filled doughnut. Think it doesn’t sound good? You’re wrong. It is amazing. The perfect blend of sweet and salty, pork and fried dough belong together. And both the pork and the ‘bun’–which I guess I should stop calling a doughnut–are examples of the highest form of pork and doughnut (er, bun) I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. The meat was so flavorful that I actually picked through it to see if there was some kind of sauce involved (there wasn’t) and the bun was flaky, sweet, and toothsome. Yeah, that’s right–I said toothsome. For food this good, you have to break out the SAT prep words.
So yes, the Korean fried chicken at Mono + Mono is amazing. So amazing, in fact, that I managed to eat four pieces of it even after all of the dishes I described above (and then fairly waddled out of the restaurant). But don’t just go there for the chicken. Explore the rest of the menu, too. I’m certainly glad I did.
Mono + Mono is located at 116 East 4th Street, New York, New York–in the East Village between 2nd and 1st Avenues. You can make reservations for parties of six or more through their website, grab a seat at the bar, or just show up and wait for a table. I assure you, it is worth the wait.