The contents of the bowl in front of me looked familiar. In it, eggy noodles swirling with some variety on the theme of bacon. It was recognizable but at the same time it wasn’t. That’s because it also included kimchee and – wait for it – Doritos.
[Record scratch across the heavens.]
Welcome to King Noodle in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, the stoniest stoner restaurant you’ll come across this side of San Francisco. Mirrored walls and a disco ball (relics from the space’s previous incarnation as a Dominican bar) and a ceiling lined with strips of red, blue and purple Christmas lights illuminate the spray painted walls of corral reefs on a Martian-like landscape (done by local artists at Secret HandShake). If the space seems like an electric Kool-Aid acid test, the menu reads like it was concocted after several hits from an evil wizard bong and a trip to the kitchen to see what’s in the fridge: Spam fried rice, mapo tofu with chili cheese fries, and rice cakes with krab and mozzarella in a spicy sauce.
And then there’s that dish I described above: kimchee carbonara. When I first heard about it – the restaurant just opened last month – I knew I had to try it.
I have a love affair with the Roman pasta dish carbonara. I wrote about it for Gadling after a recent trip to Rome in which I mostly only ate the egg-y pasta dish of contested origins every place I sat down to eat. And I happen to have just fused Korean and Italian tastes in a cooking competition my friends had just organized.
Here I was in Bushwick, a name that translates as “refuge” in Dutch. The neighborhood was once a civic wasteland, particularly after the 1977 riots that decimated the area. In the 1990s, artists began moving into the desolate warehouse and loft buildings, which had no heat and very few comforts. It wasn’t until a decade ago when galleries, bars and restaurants slowly and quietly began opening up here. Then in early 2008 came Italian restaurant Roberta’s. It has drawn people to the neighborhood ever since, especially now with the addition of Roberta’s upscale spin-off Blanca garnering rave reviews. Bushwick is now so self-sustainable that residents don’t necessarily need to drift into neighboring Williamsburg for decent eating and drinking.
King Noodle is a prime example, which sits next to The Narrows, a great cocktail bar. When chef Nick Subic, late Roberta’s, delivered my kimchee carbonara, I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
“It all started when my restaurant partner and I were at Snacky” – an Asian restaurant in Williamsburg – “when we got this idea to do a restaurant that evokes those weird second-floor, pub-like restaurants in Korea Town. But we wanted some stoner-dorm-room-vibe thrown into the mix. And that’s where the kimchee carbonara came into it all.”
He added: “We wanted to do something that was as inauthentic to Korean food as Taco Bell was to Mexican food.”
Goal achieved. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the dish is bad. In fact, I liked it very much. The Doritos gave it a nice textural crunch. And the lo mein noodles were the perfect size to wrap around the kimchee and bacon.
I can’t say that when I come back to King Noodle – and I will return – that I’d get the kimchee carbonara again. There’s something about stoner food in restaurants that almost feels like cheating. Part of the appeal, after all, is being stoned (which I wasn’t) and also inventing it yourself. And then, of course, thinking that you just created what might be the greatest thing ever eaten (and then, the next morning, realizing just how wrong you were).
[Photo by David Farley]