Dinner and a…. [K-Town Chicken + Karaoke; Bar Boulud & “Dr. Atomic”]

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One subject everyone can relate to, regardless of where you live in the country, is the decision-making process one goes through when one plans a night on the town. Of course, there’s dinner but what to do after dinner? And how important is the after dinner activity when choosing where to eat dinner? If you eat dinner in an obscure part of town with nothing else to do, is the night ruined? Inversely, if you choose an awesome after dinner activity (let’s go rollerskating!) are your plans foiled when the only place to eat nearby is a 3rd rate pizza joint?

Happily, living in New York provides many opportunities for a fantastic dinner AND a fantastic after dinner activity. Allow me to share two such examples, after the jump.

Example 1: Korean Fried Chicken + Korean Karaoke

Last week was my friend Kirk’s birthday (check out the awesome movie site he works on, FilmCatcher.com) and like any smart birthday boy, Kirk laid out the plan for everyone: meet in K-town for fried chicken and then walk a few paces for Korean Karaoke.

The fried chicken was consumed at Restaurant Forte Baden Baden, which was lauded by Peter Meehan in The New York TImes two years ago. The restaurant is a bit difficult to find; the address is 28 West 32nd Street, 2nd floor—but would you think there’s a restaurant inside here if you were standing outside?

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Fortunately, Craig had been there before (with Kirk, in fact) so he led the way up. Once there, we sat at a large table of Kirk’s friends and ordered huge platters of fried chicken.

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There she is, all fried up and crunchy and covered with sub-par but still edible frozen onion rings.

This is food that goes well with beer and birthdays. The beer kept coming, as did the chicken, and whether or not I loved the chicken–(I was slightly disappointed; I found some of the meat cottony, and the seasoning lackluster)–mattered less than how much fun I was having.

And the star of the show, food wise, wasn’t chicken at all–it was this calamari platter:

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A spicy, savory blend of calamari and kimchi, and served on a bed of noodles, this was a knock-out and we ordered lots and lots of this, and more beer, and more fried chicken, and even some sake at the end. K-town brings out the beast in all of us. Luckily, we were redeemed with free fruit at the end:

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But this post isn’t about free fruit, it’s about dinner and after-dinner activities. So a few doors down from Restaurant Forte Baden Baden, is a karaoke joint: Toto Music (38 W. 32nd St. #5). There you get to experience a kind of karaoke I’ve never experienced: the kind where you go into a small room with all of your friends and just sing karaoke for each other.

I’m not a big karaoke fan, and I’m not sure I liked it more in a small room, but I have to admit it was fun to watch how much fun everyone else was having. Don’t you want to be up there singing with them too?

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And thus ends our first example of a great New York dinner + after-dinner activity. And now for example #2.

Example #2: Bar Boulud & Dr. Atomic

Before Monday, neither Craig nor I had ever been to an opera at the Met. Thus, I made the bold decision to buy us tickets for an opera that is anything but representative of the standard fare opera-audiences are used to; I bought tickets for “Dr. Atomic,” a new opera by John Adams about the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atom bomb.

Before the opera started, though, there was dinner. And it’s impossible to ignore the fact that right there, right across the street from the Met, is the one and only Bar Boulud, a casual off-shoot of the Daniel Boulud empire.

“I mean,” I said to Craig, feigning unrehearsedness, “we could go to Bar Boulud–it’s right across the street.”

Luckily, Craig was happy to comply.

Our pictures are lousy (I didn’t have my camera–I was scared to take it to the opera, so I used my phone) but the food was anything but. We started with the Pâté Grandmére: Fine Country Pâté made from Chicken LIver, Pork and Cognac.

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“This,” promised the waiter, “is a good, traditional example of Daniel’s charcuterie” and, indeed, it was. The pate was rich, clean-tasting, and substantial; perfect to balance on a toasted piece of bread with grainy mustard. We toasted our wine glasses (Craig had a glass of white, I had a glass of red–mine was light and a little too acidic, a Pinot Noir in the spirit of a Beaujolais (the waiter’s description, not mine!)) and sank into our appetizer.

The restaurant was really accommodating since we told them we had to make the opera by 8; our entrees came out promptly after the first course and boy, was I blown away by mine–behold my coq au vin.

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It doesn’t look like much in that terrible picture, but as an example of a classic French dish that I’d never had before, I can’t imagine another version getting much better. The sauce was a deep, profound red; the flavor was intense, the chicken wildly tender.

Craig had the scallops which he really enjoyed:

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(Sorry, that’s an even worse picture.)

Before we knew it, the bill arrived, we paid and we were off to the opera.

There are few New York moments that’ll ever compare to that first feeling of walking into the Met to see a performance. The chandelier is breathtaking, the audience enormously eclectic (we saw two men in matching tuxedos with matching white plastic glasses), and the architecture inviting and exquisite. We took our time getting up to our seats, and once there I couldn’t help snapping a few photos with my phone:

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Then I got yelled at by an usher.

The opera itself, once it started, was challenging but riveting, nonetheless. It was a good first choice opera for us since it was modern, and therefore written for a modern audience. I think I’d prefer to see a classic next (on the subway home, we ran into a friend of Craig’s whose male companion suggested we see “La Traviata” next) but for a first time experience, “Dr. Atomic” definitely entertained us. And it was exciting to be there for the New York premiere of an important new opera.

So there you go: two evenings proscribed for New York residents–one casual and chummy, one formal and fancy.

What’s your favorite New York night out? And those not in New York: what do you like to do for an evening out? As the weekend approaches, inquiring minds would love to know.

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