Ambrosia (aka the best Bi Bim Bap in Midtown?)
I take for granted sometimes that everyone knows about every kind of food I write about. I spend 17 posts writing about a strange bulgogi cart outside my building, but I feel like some people still don’t actually know what the hell bulgogi is. The same could probably be said about Bi Bim Bap. Maybe it’s just Korean stuff. Despite being a short walk away from Koreatown, it seems as if people are still not versed in the delicious ways of Korean dining. Well, if you’ve never eaten Bi Bim Bap, here is a quick primer.
Bi Bim Bap is basically a deconstructed Korean rice dish. You get white rice, a number of vegetables (usually carrots, cooked spinach, bean sprouts and others) and sometimes a little bit of meat. The dish is then topped off with a fried egg, which you are supposed to break over the whole thing. It all gets mixed together with this sweet and spicy red sauce to make a rice dish/meal. It’s delicious, and in the past few months, it seems to popping up at delis everywhere in Midtown. I’ve had a decent pre-packaged version at Cafe Duke, a mediocre version at Pro Bagel, (and a terrible version at the Bulgogi Cart outside my building).
I’ve always been content with the Cafe Duke version, despite the fact that it was pre-packaged- but after discovering Ambrosia, I think Duke has been unseeded. While Korean food is a unique option for Midtown Lunch’ing, Ambrosia is not. It’s just another one of those generic delis that serve everthing under the sun- complete with sandwiches, salads, pizza and the requisite by the lb. buffet. Although I’m sure some have partaken in the Mexican Fiesta station, I suggest ignoring it all and heading back to the Korean Food window in the back of the store.
What could possibly be the best cheap to go Bi Bim Bap in Midtown (outside of Koreantown), and the +/- after the jump…
When Ambrosia first hung up their Korean food sign a few months ago, I immediately went in to check it out. I’m always excited for cheap Asian food, especially in a strange setting… but there was one problem. It wasn’t cheap. Despite being a window in the back of a deli, their prices were hovering dangerously close to a sit down restaurant. The meat dishes were all over $10, with the Bulgogi clocking in at $12.95. Totally out of the Midtown Lunch’ing price range. At $6.95, the Bi Bim Bap is relatively cheap- and after geting an email from a tipster exclaiming its virtues, I decided to check it out.
Bi Bim Bap is not a particularly tough dish to make. Because you end up mixing all the ingredients together yourself, the key is really just freshness, and quality of ingredients. There are a couple of things that make the Bi Bim Bap from Ambrosia exceptional (for cheap take out Bi Bim Bap in Midtown). #1. It is put together fresh, so the egg is hot and can be broken over the whole thing. Every other cheap, take out Bi Bim Bap is pre-packaged for convenience- so the egg is either non-existent, or fully cooked (thereby defeating the purpose of the egg entirely). #2. It comes with banchan, little Korean side dishes. If you have ever been to a real Korean restaurant, they will always serve you little plates of side dishes to be eaten before, or with your meal. Kimchee is the most famous one (fermented cabbage with chilis), but there are tons of different kinds. At Ambrosia they give you 4 little cups of stuff, a very nice touch. Finally, #3. The free soup that comes with the meal makes it an unbelievable amount of food for $6.95. And it’s not just a tiny cup, like the free Miso soup you get at delis with your sushi. It’s a fairly large soup, with chunks of tofu and mushrooms in it.
The menu makes the Bi Bim Bap sound vegetarian (and I’m sure you can get it that way), but they do include a small portion of sauteed beef (probably the bulgogi) in the dish. Mix it all together and you’ve got a delicious lunch. Easily better than the rest of the versions I’ve written about. They even have a Dolsot Bi Bim Bap, which is the same dish, served in a super hot stone pot, so that the white rice at the bottom gets crunchy- making it almost like a fried rice. How the hell they do that out of a generic Midtown deli, I have no idea… I guess I’ll be going back!
- It’s put together fresh, so the rice is hot, and the egg is done sunny side up so you can break it over the whole dish.
- Everything comes with Banchan, and the kimchee is top notch. Much better than other versions I’ve had at Midtown delis.
- You get a large, free soup that has chunks of stuff in it.
- They give you a great variety of veggies to mix in the Bi Bim Bap
- There is a very large seating area upstairs at Ambrosia, so there is plenty of room to sit with your food.
- There are much better versions in Koreatown, if you are willing to go down to 32nd St.
- It’s still take out Bi Bim Bap…
- They give you a ton of food, but some of the traditional accompanying veggies in the Bi Bim Bap are missing (like spinach), and they give you too much of others.
Ambrosia, 45th St. (btw. 5+6th)