It’s some ungodly hour and you need food. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s intown late-night dining options are limited unless you want greasy eggs and something of the scattered variety. You do have options if you deign to drive to Duluth, however. Yes, Duluth, where there is an infinite variety of cuisines, new restaurants opening every day, and plenty of spots that cater to night owls. What more can you ask for? One of my newest finds, Myung Ga Won (1960 Day Drive, Suite 100, Duluth, 770-622-1300, www.mk1usa.com), serves exceptional Korean cuisine and is open 24 hours a day.
Tucked away in a small strip mall just off I-85, Myung Ga Won’s colorful — and slightly retro — façade looks more like a bowling alley than a dining establishment. And the last thing you’d expect is the contemporary décor touches like the lightboxes that pepper the dining room and the retro-modern revival wooden panels in various shades of orange and brown. This has to be one of the most upscale Korean restaurants in Atlanta.
The menu is rife with Korean specialties — bubbling tofu stew, bi bim bop, seafood and scallion pancakes and beef soup. But the restaurant’s barbecue — especially the marinated versions — is where it's at. The marinade has the perfect balance of soy, sweetness and tang. And the restaurant gives the meat just enough time to soak up the flavors so it enhances without overpowering. The Jamulluk galbi is the perfect showcase for the marinade. The marbled slabs of boneless beef short ribs soak up the salty and sweet liquid, but still manage to retain their inherent beefiness. A single order is never enough.
One of the better non-marinated cuts to order is actually one of the most simply prepared: the Chadol bagi. Finely marbled brisket is cut into slices as thin as playing cards and spread into a precise fan on the plate. It’s slightly mesmerizing to watch it contract into wavy pieces as it cooks on the grill. The flavor? Buttery. Beefy. Sexy.
It's remarkable how little one misses the normally unmatched flavor of charcoal grilling. The quality of the restaurant’s bright red Angus beef and the marinades makes for some excellent barbecue. And the complimentary side dishes (banchan) are plentiful and full of variety. Don’t see one of your favorites? Ask the waitress because they might have it in back.
While people who enjoy the DIY nature of Korean barbecue might find the servers’ constant grill management a letdown, it frees you up to enjoy the meal at a leisurely pace and feels slightly motherly. One dish requiring such focused service is the Busut bulgogi jungol. A cart with a burner, a shallow stone pot and dishes full of assorted mushrooms, rib eye beef, vegetables and noodles in a spicy sauce is rolled over to your table. As soon as the broth reddened with chile paste reaches a furious boil, the server meticulously submerges each item into the liquid and leaves it to simmer. When she’s satisfied with the progress of the ingredients, the whole lot gets snipped into bite-sized pieces and the final ingredient—chewy and fat white noodles—is added. The resulting mixture is a well-balanced combination of all the ingredients swimming in a broth that gets progressively spicier with each sip. It may be the perfect dish for those who visit the restaurant during odd hours after a night of doing whatever it was that brought you here in the first place. Hey, that’s nobody’s business but your own.