As the season grows colder, imagine a heavy, hot stone bowl radiating heat as it's set down on the table. Inside are shredded and pickled vegetables and mushrooms, plus grilled pork or marinated beef and a pop of gold from a poached egg. All of this is arranged on rice you can hear sizzling against the bottom of the stone bowl — and if you dig to the bottom, you find scorched, toasty, nutty rice that crunches as you eat.
Different cultures have different names for this savory, crispy rice candy (called "nurungji" in Korean), and it's one of the pleasures of eating dolsot bibimbap, the Korean rice-bowl dish. Hot-stone bibimbap is also rare to find on Long Island, where Korean food has never really reached critical mass — and it's rarer still during a pandemic, where most people have gravitated to takeout.
"Darn, I'm really craving hot-stone bibimbap, but I guess you probably don't do that as takeout?" I half-asked at Food Court Korea, which is not a food court at all but a spacious new Korean restaurant in Albertson, one that has done time as a few other eateries but mostly looks like a repurposed bar.
"We can definitely do that for takeout," said manager Jon Kim, taking my order. "The kitchen cooks it on the hot stone before they put it in the container."
Done. I also tacked on a scallion pancake called pajeon and some Korean-style fried-chicken wings, which are generally double-fried and almost always deeply rewarding.
Food Court Korea had opened a few weeks before with a lengthy menu that covers core Korean dishes: There are the marinated-then-grilled beef dishes bulgogi and kalbi ($21.95 and $24.95, respectively), three iterations of the spicy stir-fry bokkeum ($19.95) and japchae ($12.95), glass sweet-potato noodles stir-fried with vegetables and served cool. There are also starters such as Korean-style dumplings ($8.95) and soups like jjamppong ($13.95), a spicy seafood noodle soup and kimchi jjigae ($14.95), an even more fiery stew.
When it comes time to gather around tables again, Food Court Korea has plenty of room to do so: Rows and rows of wooden tables where servers can spread out banchan, the myriad tiny dishes (such as bean sprouts and kimchi) that accompany a Korean meal.
But Food Court Korea doesn't skimp on the banchan for takeout either, I realized later in the front seat of my car as I unwrapped tiny tubs of pickled radishes. The fried-chicken was as crunchy and light as they come, and the bibimbap — well, it made my heart sing. On top was a cheerful composition of carrots, pickled cucumbers, shredded nori and tender bulgogi, with a wobbly poached egg whose yolk oozed when I broke it with a chopstick. The bibimbap was a takeout marvel as it stood — but then I lifted the side to reveal the bottom of the rice, and there it was: The telltale char marks of hot stone and crispy, addictive toasted rice.