Woo Bok Lee opened his restaurant in 1979, and it stands today as the oldest operating Korean restaurant in the city. People still line up nightly at the door for a table in the tight, close room, where the specialties are five varieties of naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles) and stone pan cooking. The latter (for two or more people) involves gas burners on the table fueling a heavy stone griddle upon which a variety of seasoned meats are seared—octopus, beef, tripe, or a combination. Marinated vegetables and steamed rice (or noodles) are then cooked in the rendered juices, the rice crisps on the pan, and the resulting fabric-penetrating aromas can be whiffed down the block. Originally a North Korean specialty, naengmyeon are served cold and slippery, a bracing refreshment in hot weather, usually in light beef broth garnished with slivered cucumber or radish, hard-boiled egg, mustard, and red pepper paste. I prefer the two dry variations served here with hot sauce, one topped with raw, chewy skate. Unfortunately barbecue orders dont include lettuce to wrap the meat, and the varieties of panchan are fewer—and in some cases less aggressively seasoned—than those in other Korean barbecue houses. Perhaps because Cho Sun Ok is so venerable the crowds forgive it.
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