Pickled Cabbage and New Phonebook Day

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I’ve never gotten over my instinctive dislike of traditional holidays, and instead make up my own -- personal, private mileposts on the calendar with their own rituals and rites of observation, celebrated mostly alone. One such holiday landed on the Thursday right before Labor Day weekend: New Phone Book Day.

I love New Phone Book Day. First, because it’s an excuse to do my Steve-Martin-in-The-Jerk impression (“The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!”) that, as with all of my impressions, Laura tolerates with a steely, forced good humor. Second, New Phone Book Day is always a surprise: I never know when it’s coming. These days, with so many different companies all producing phone books willy-nilly, New Phone Book Day can come four or five times a year, sometimes twice in a month, sometimes not at all for six. Finally, New Phone Book Day provides me with a host of new restaurants to investigate.

Never has a New Phone Book Day gone by when I didn’t find something interesting -- bizarre Indian tandoori restaurants serving pizza and tamales, time-warp strip-mall Chinese operations still offering chow mein and eggy wonton soup, Mongolian restaurants staffed by Vietnamese cooks and existing only to serve apartment complexes full of Russian or Ethiopian immigrants. This most recent New Phone Book Day was no exception. I found my unexpected gift right on page 867: Sae Jong Kwan, also known as House of Korean BBQ.

Yes, this week I’m digging into that unloveliest of cuisines: Korean. I have never claimed to be anything close to an expert on this willfully difficult, dense and confusing ethnic canon, but after a long week spent buried to the molars in all things kim and chi, I now know a whole lot more than I knew a month ago. My visits to Sae Jong Kwan were eye-opening and olfactorily abusive, with a quick lunch-time visit to Uoki Restaurant providing a delicious aside, which inspires this aside: If any Korean (and Japanese) food fans out there start feeling a bit peckish in the vicinity of East Sixth Avenue, please give Uoki a try. I had an absolutely wonderful and supremely comforting lunch there last week -- but had it all alone. I was the only customer who even approached the door for about an hour and change, and I really don’t want to see this place go under. There aren’t many spots in town where I can get bulgogi and maguro sushi from the same menu, not many restaurants so friendly and obviously dedicated to providing comfort food specifically for the Asian foods enthusiast. Uoki deserves to be doing much more business than it is. – Jason Sheehan

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