Myung Dong 1st Avenue

Can a Korean dive bar serve the masses? Certainly, with alcoholic melon drinks.
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  December 9, 2009
1.0 1.0 Stars

MELONJOLLY Much of the food lacks authentic spiciness. But after one sip of melon soju, you won’t care — and the fried-dumpling appetizer stands up on its own.

Myung Dong 1st Avenue | 90–92 Harvard Avenue, Allston | 617.206.3229 | Open daily, 5 pm–1 am | DI, MC, VI | Beer and wine (and Soju) | No valet parking | Sidewalk-level access
Myung Dong refers to a high-rent, youth-oriented shopping district in Seoul, thus "1st Avenue" is a kind of evocation of both Fifth Avenue and SoHo. This restaurant has a variety of Japanese and Korean dishes, but the idea is to appeal to a young crowd, more specifically a drinking crowd. With a beer-and-wine license, the strongest option available is the Korean beverage soju think: weak and slightly sweet rice vodka. How to get down enough of that stuff to do some damage? Well, lofty and creative intellects have figured out that if you soak soju into, say, a melon ($25), you both kill the alcohol taste and have something sweet to slurp.

What? You used to do that with a watermelon and real vodka? Your grandfather used to do that at some fraternity? Your great, great grandmother and her pals did that in the 1880s at Vassar? Yeah, sure. But did they have really bad hip-hop and really great eel teriyaki ($13.99) to go with it? I don't think so.

Myung Dong's food includes some of the dishes that Korean youth slam down in the real Myung Dong, and is designed to give non-Asian youth comforting options. Seating is likewise two ways: regular wooden tables and chairs, and lower tin-top tapas tables with salmon-color plastic cone-base chairs that look like oversize hourglasses.

In our sampling, neither part of the long menu had the distinction of parent restaurants Buk Kyung and Buk Kyung II, but it's possible that the hot pepper was dialed down for our party. Or, maybe it's all like that, because after a couple of soju-based drinks (two-handed grips are traditional), it doesn't matter if the food is authentically hot and spicy. Still, while many items were lackluster, none of what we ordered was bad.

Our favorite appetizer was fried dumplings ($4.99/5; $8.99/10), longer and crisper than most Peking ravioli, with the Chinese-style soy-vinegar dip and an unusual filling that may have comprised chicken and vegetables. They were crisp and cleanly fried, with a nice balance of shell and filling. A seafood pancake ($10.99) had lots of baby shrimp and squid and scallions, but was overall greasier and less eggy than versions elsewhere. Tempura ($8.99/combination appetizer; $13.99/shrimp and vegetable entrée) was much better, but overly battered, especially on a single large onion ring. The appetizer portion brings two shrimp, an onion, a slice of zucchini, a giant slice of carrot, a slice of taro (starchy and a little sweet), and a big floret of broccoli — a good portion for sharing. Cheese katsu ($8.99) was a novelty to me, coming to the table as a thin pork cutlet with a coating of melted cheese, in finger-size slices. Does this sound an awful lot like veal parmesan without the tomato sauce? It tastes like that, too. Ah, the exotic world of Korean bar snacks.

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