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Race to my place soma by nature versus seh ja meh

Race to My Place: Korean Bulgogi

Race to my place soma by nature versus seh ja meh
Soma By Nature vs. Seh Ja Meh in our Race

For each installment of the Race to My Place, we will be pitting two restaurants with similar cuisines, estimated delivery times, and prices against each other and see whose delivery reigns supreme!  We will compare delivery speed, packaging & presentation, quality & taste, and value.  For this Korean Bulgogi race, our contestants were Soma by Nature and Se Ja Meh.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Korean food, Bulgogi is a Korean BBQ dish consisting of thin sliced sirloin that is marinated in a mixture of garlic, onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, and sugar, and then grilled.  If you eat this in house, you are often given the option of barbecuing it yourself, but this practice can often result in making your hair, clothes, and all your belongings smell like smoke!  For this Korean race, we ordered pre-grilled Bulgogi lunch boxes from Se Ja Meh and Soma by Nature.

Delivery Speed: Tie
We have a new delivery record!  Both restaurants delivered their food in exactly 8 minutes. I don’t know how, and I’m not sure I want to know how, but literally right after I placed my order for Se Ja Meh, Soma by Nature was already calling me to come downstairs.  Then, Se Ja Meh called as I was in the elevator on my way back up; it was a hectic lunch hour!

Packaging & Presentation: Tie
This category was a tie because both restaurants had their pros and cons.  The container that Soma by Nature used had really high partitions which made it very neat and stopped all the sauces from running into each other.  However, the partitions didn’t keep the flavors from melding together, so each item had a hint of some other taste.

Se Ja Meh kept all their side dishes in separate containers which eliminated flavor contamination.  Their Bulgogi, Jap Chae, and dumpling, on the other hand were all placed in one container with low partitions, and the Bulgogi marinade ended up infiltrating everything.

It’s difficult to keep everything separate when there are so many different parts to a meal, and neither restaurant got it quite right.

Quality & Taste: Se Ja Meh
Se Ja Meh wins this category on the basis of their Bulgogi alone.  Both deliveries came with so many different side dishes, they would be impossible to compare.  Soma by Nature’s Bulgogi tasted like the kind you would get at an international buffet; it was overcooked and the garlic overpowered the marinade.  Se Ja Meh’s Bulgogi was finely grilled and the sauce wasn’t as oily or as garlicky as Soma’s.  Their rice was also softer and stickier as Korean rice is suppose to be.

If we were to compare the side dishes separately, Soma by Nature would probably be the winner.  While Se Ja Meh offered more traditional side dishes such as kimchi, jap chae, vegetable mandoo, and other various pickled vegetables, none of the items tasted quite right.  The pickled zucchini was mushy, the jap chae and vegetable mandoo were drowned in bulgogi marinade, and their side salad, while fresh, had a really strange dressing that just wasn’t very appealing.

Soma by Nature’s side dishes were an eclectic hodgepodge of quasi-Asian items.  They included two pieces of a California Roll which were actually quite tasty and brimming with avocado, two varieties of yam: one bright purple and one orange, an Asian style frittata with jap chae cooked into it, a tiny nickel-sized crab cake, a really bad seafood pancake, and oddly, a banana muffin.  There was also a random meatball on top of the rice, but nobody dared to try it, and we weren’t quite sure how it tied into the Asian theme.

Most of the side dishes took on a hint of banana flavor from the banana muffin, but besides that oddity, eating this meal was like going on an adventure without leaving your office.  We all had so much fun guessing what everything was, and sometimes, even after trying some of the items, we still weren’t quite sure what we had eaten!  When I learned that Soma by Nature was in fact a buffet style eatery, the randomness of the side dishes began to make sense.  I would definitely order this again just to see what side dishes I would get, it’s all very exciting!

Value: Soma by Nature
With all the fun side dishes, Some by Nature won this by a landslide!  Their lunchbox, at $10.95, was also cheaper than Se Ja Meh’s $12 lunchbox.

In the end, this race is still kind of up in the air.  Both restaurants deliver at a lightning fast speed, and both have their pros and cons.  If you’re looking for authentic Korean food, I would order from Se Ja Meh.  But if you’re having one of those days where you want “Asian food,” and you’d like to be taken on a flavorful adventure, Soma by Nature is your best bet!

Bon Chon on John versus Chambers Street Location

Bon Chon Showdown: John Street vs. Chambers Street

Bon Chon on John Chicken Wings
Bon Chon on John's chicken wings!

As those of you who have lived in the area for a while may know, the block on Chambers St between Church and Broadway used to house a place called “Bon Bon Chicken” that served Korean Fried Chicken.  In the past year or so, however, the shop was bought out by Bon Chon, a Korean Fried chicken franchise from South Korea.  In addition to this take over, Bon Chon opened another restaurant on John Street, not too far from the Chambers Street location.  In the past when I had visited the Chambers Street location, it never seemed busy-in fact, I’ve never had to wait, and their deliveries never took very long.  Wasn’t opening another store less than 10 blocks away a little redundant?  What did the new Bon Chon on John have to offer besides its catchy name?

After visiting the two establishments on a Sunday night, I can see why BonChon decided to open up a new restaurant.  First of all, the Chambers St. location is a hole in the wall; it’s a tiny store front with four picnic style tables, one of which only seats two people.  The only differences I can detect from the store’s Bon Bon days are the new logos and packaging, and they now use flat screen TVs to display the menu.  This location clearly focuses more on delivery and take out, and looks more like your typical fast food joint.  And the food did come out super fast; although there is a disclaimer on the wall stating that their chicken is cooked fresh to order and we should expect a 30 minute wait, we got our small order of mixed flavored chicken in less than 3 minutes.

After the Chambers St experience, Bon Chon on John took me completely by surprise.  As we walked down John St, I initially thought the restaurant was closed because it looked so dark inside.  I expected the same florescent lighting and fast food feel as the Chambers St location, but Bon Chon on John is a, dare I say classy, restaurant and bar, complete with mood lighting for people on dates, and two flat screen TVs at the bar for people trying to catch the game (a much more appropriate way to use a TV, don’t you think?).  They provided us with actual plates and silverware, and even gave us a bucket for our chicken bones!  I felt so civilized.  The only downfall here was that in order to try two flavors of chicken, we had to order the medium sized meal, and the wait time was about 15-20 minutes.

As for the actual chicken, both locations used good quality meat, but you could tell that Bon Chon on John’s chicken had just come out of the fryer- it was steaming hot, super crunchy on the outside, and still juicy on the inside.  Bon Chon on Chambers was just as crunchy, but the meat was a little less juicy.  The chicken wings and drumsticks seemed a lot smaller at the Chambers location, but that could have been due to the way it was presented.

Another thing that set the two locations apart are the side dishes.  Chambers only offers bread and rice, while John offers fries, rice, bread, coleslaw, or kimchi coleslaw, and every order comes with a side of pickled radish.  Of course, we got the fries at John St, and I have to tell you, these might have been the best french fries I’ve ever had!  They  had a really thick crispy outer layer, but were tender on the inside, and not at all mealy.  The fries were just as crisp as their twice-fried chicken, which makes me think that perhaps their fries are twice fried as well!  They were also extremely generous with their side portions, and they gave us an entire cone of fries!

Bon Chon on John was much more expensive, however, than the Chambers location.  The small meal that we ordered at Chambers was $7.99, and came with one drumstick and six wings.  The medium order at John was $13, and it only came with one more drumstick than the small order at Chambers!  That being said, we did get bigger pieces of chicken at John St, and they did give us a huge portion of fries.  Plus, the ambiance of Bon Chon on John is worth paying a little extra money, as is the fully stocked bar!  The bartender was very generous, and offered a free shot of his own unnamed concoction to everyone in the restaurant.

So, do we really need two Bon Chon locations in lower Manhattan?  When it comes to fried chicken, the answer should always be yes!  At the end of the day, both locations serve crispy, delectable Korean fried chicken, and I think each location serves its purpose.  Chambers St is perfect for those times when you just need that chicken NOW, or if you just want to grab a box on your way home.  Bon Chon on John is perfect for happy hour, or those of you who want to enjoy the game while snacking on crisp juicy chicken and a beer, or who are just looking for a more civilized fried chicken experience.

Just so you know, Bon Chon on John offers some of the best happy hour deals in the neighborhood.  They offer a buy 1 get 1 free deal on drinks all week from 4pm-8pm, all day on Saturday, and from 4pm-11pm on Sundays.  Plus, Tuesday night is Ladies Night, which means that on top of the BOGO drink deal, girls also get a free special entree!

Caruso's pizza pie, half pepperoni half plain

Review: Caruso’s Pizza

Caruso's Pizza on Fulton Street Pizza Box
Caruso's Pizza on Fulton Street

When I was asked to blog about food (my one love) in Battery Park City (my favorite neighborhood), there was no way I could turn the opportunity down. I recently moved back to Battery Park City after living in the East Village for four years, so you can imagine my surprise when I couldn’t find any recommendations for decent Pad See Ew on chowhound.com or any website besides Yelp.  My goal for this blog is to be able to remedy that. I’ll try my best to seek out the hidden gems in BPC, FiDi and lower Tribeca, and maybe along the way, steer some people away from places that didn’t quite hit the mark.

For my first assignment, I had planned to compare delivery from two different pizzerias, but due to a personal technological muck-up, I was left with just one pizza from Caruso’s.  We ordered a large plain pizza, half with pepperoni ($22).  The pizza came in exactly 35 minutes, which wasn’t too shabby, and it came with an entire bag of paper plates, plastic utensils and even small plastic containers full of the standard NY pizza condiments. Things were looking up.

Caruso's pizza pie, half pepperoni half plain
Fast pizza might mean haste makes waste

We opened the box, and an oddly white pizza stared back at us. They must have used fresh mozzarella, which is one of my favorite pizza toppings, so I couldn’t wait to shove a slice in my mouth. Without even using any of the condiments they offered, I quickly took my first bite.

And was quickly disappointed. The mouthful I got was chewy and bland. The crust was more doughy than crusty. The sauce was oddly sweet and somehow tasteless at the same time.  While the fresh mozzarella added a nice touch to the pie, it did absolutely nothing for the flavor of the pizza. The condiments that they so graciously delivered did improve the flavor, but then it just felt like I was eating bread with red chili flakes and oregano.

Now, the pizza wasn’t completely awful, and perhaps if I walked by at lunch time I’d grab a slice fresh out of the oven. However, there were two other people helping me eat the pizza, and at the end of the night, there were still three slices left in the box. You do the math.

When I sampled a slice of the pepperoni, the meat added some much needed sodium. That’s really all this particular pie was wanting: salt and perhaps a few extra minutes in the oven.  I may try a slice from Caruso’s in the future with some added toppings, but I am not inclined to try their plain cheese pizza again. It was just, well, plain.

140 Fulton Street
New York, NY 10038
(212) 267-2927