A few weeks after my surgery, I realized that my hair was something of a disgrace. Not just because I’d become a housebound sloth with perpetual bedhead—no, it was shaggy and unruly and looking distinctly like an overgrown privet hedge. I called Victoria, my hairdresser of ten years; a few hours at her one-woman midtown salon would get me behaving like a real live human being again. The next day she returned my call from her home in the Poconos, with bad news: After an ice storm the weekend of my surgery, she’d slipped and broken her ankle in three places. Multiple surgeries and an erector set of metal pins later, she’s on bed rest for two to three months. I was distraught for her—having been on bed rest for three weeks before my miscarriage, I knew exactly how challenging the next few months would be for her. Not to mention the potential damage to her business, with all her clients forced to change hairdressers in the interim.
When we hung up I set about finding someone to handle my mane, preferably someone local. It didn’t take long to get a recommendation for Aki, the owner of Commune, a ten-minute walk from home. I made an appointment, and went over the very next day. Aki was very sweet, and treated me very gently—going to a new salon was a bit traumatic for me, after all those years with Victoria—and naturally we chatted about neighborhood restaurants. She’s Japanese, and mentioned that she’d been pleased with the new Korean-Japanese place down the street, which piqued my interest. I’m by no means an expert in either cuisine (and in fact I tend to wonder when places claim to offer more than one kind of Asian food), but I do happen to love Korean barbecue. And kim chee…mmmmm. Aki’s thumbs-up was enough to make me take note.
Last night S and I went over there for dinner, and I must say Aki’s endorsement was spot-on. This place rocks! The first thing you notice when you walk in is that it doesn’t smell—most of the Korean bbq places I’ve been to share one major drawback, and that’s the stench coming off all those tabletop grills. It’s as bad as cooking latkes, I tell ya. But although Dokebi has tabletop grills, there was a glorious lack of stink—I asked our waitress later, and she told me the owners had bought super-fancy tables with built-in exhaust systems, which cost something like $10,000 each. Could turn out to be a very smart investment—as long as the food stays as good as it was, they should earn that money back and then some. This place has the makings of a neighborhood classic. The space itself has the funky Williamsburg vibe, with exposed brick walls and unexpectedly comfy wooden benches surrounding those fancy tables, a modern rock soundtrack, and a staff that’s young and cute and hip-but-not-too-hip (read: friendly). The back room, down a long hallway, holds a full bar with smaller tables, and don’t tell anyone but I’d swear someone was smoking a cigarette back there (shocking!).
The only thing they don’t seem to have nailed yet is the flow of service. We ordered a jap chae appetizer—cellophane noodles w/vegetables, in a nod to the neighborhood available vegetarian or with the traditional beef—but before it arrived I’d already been served both the salad that came with my entrée (outrageously good ginger dressing) and the entrée itself, a plate of raw chicken breast in a spicy sauce, ready for grilling, along with rice and three small plates of spicy pickled vegetables. The jap chae finally appeared a few minutes later, and because my food was already happening S ate the lion’s share—though I did nab some, and it was wonderful, with thick, very chewy noodles, a beautiful mellow soy-sesame flavor, and very fresh, barely-cooked vegetables.
My chicken was fully cooked and I was eating it out of my rice bowl (and enjoying it very much), when the waitress came rushing over to tell me that it was traditional to eat it wrapped in lettuce leaves, if I wouldn’t mind waiting a minute while she fetched some. I nibbled on kim chee in the meantime—kirby cucumbers, cabbage, and what tasted an awful lot like pineapple, pickled in a fiery marinade. Yowza. She returned with a small basket of very fresh greens, with spears of kirbys and carrots and a small dish of thick tawny-brown sauce alongside. Her instructions: Take a leaf, put a little rice in the center, add some chicken and some sauce, and wrap the whole thing up like a burrito. I did as I was told and savored the results. It was wonderful, crispy and spicy and smoky and messy.
I had pretty much demolished my chicken by the time S’s bibimbop finally arrived—again with the less-than-perfect service—but it was worth it. He’d opted to pay $2 extra to have it served in a hot stone pot, which creates an intoxicating crust of rice on its surface. Topped with shredded vegetables and marinated beef, with a bowl of deep red chili sauce for extra flavor, it was the ideal comfort food for a cold night. S had requested an egg on top, and when the bowl arrived we realized the egg was fried—we both understood a raw egg was traditional (though it’s not mentioned on the menu at all), so that was a surprise. Didn’t stop S from plowing through that bowl until it was done, though. And oh, that crusty rice—I was so stuffed from my meal I barely tasted his, but I had to have a little of the golden brown crunch.
Yeah, the service isn’t perfect. But that’s a tiny complaint in a vast sea of enthusiasm. If you live in the neighborhood (and even if you don’t), get yourself over to Dokebi. You’ll be glad you did.
Oh, and as for my hair: It looks amazing. And it costs $60 less than Victoria. I’ve got a real quandary on my hands now…
Dokebi Bar & Grill is at 199 Grand Street, Williamsburg. 718.782.1424.