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The perpetually crowded Kunjip, on that restaurant-and-karaoke bar packed stretch of W. 32nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan, has rapidly turned into my new Grand Sichuan (a.k.a. where-I-want-to-eat-all-the-time). My friends usually let me have my way—until last night. What started as a group of three was about to get larger, with more stragglers planning to come but unsure when they could make it. Kunjip's hosts were less than accommodating. And really, why should they be? Every time I've gone, their lines have stretched out the door, several large groups deep. (You're also told exactly how to stand in line—against the windowpane.) The staff has even instigated a smart tactic for faster turnover: distribute menus to those in line, and have them order before they're seated. And no one seems to mind—especially not me.
But one of my friends, who last time thought we were all getting slowly asphyxiated from Kunjip's sesame aroma (I balked; it's one of my favorite smells), finally put his foot down. He wanted to go elsewhere. I wanted to eat excellent Korean food. So we went, hesitatingly, to Han Bat, on the (relatively) deserted stretch of W. 35th Street. We said we were a group of three, with two more coming, though we weren't sure when. Could they accommodate? The host made a hand gesture that seemed to imply that they took what they could get, considering the restaurant was half-empty. So we sat—lingered is a a more appropriate word, since we were there for three hours—feasting on super-flavorful dishes like spicy soon doo boo chi gae, or bean curd stew, loaded with tiny baby clams and a lusciously sweet, fat prawn; and galbi tang, a clear umami-packed short-rib stew with tender, sliced radishes and clear cellophane noodles. And of course, there were tons of excellent banchan, including delectably crispy dried anchovies. I had found my Kunjip alternative, minus all the Soup Nazi-esque drama.