When Korean BBQ joint Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong opened a few months back, one of our favorite dishes on the menu was the Korean lunchbox — rice, vegetables, kimchi, and a fried egg were piled into a metal box, and then a server shook the whole thing tableside to create a sort of crude bibimbap. When we popped into The Gorbals (98 North 6th Street, Brooklyn; 718-387-0195) for dinner recently, we were immediately drawn to the Jewish lunchbox listed on the menu, and we wondered if the concept would be the same.
Turns out, chef Ilan Hall got the idea from the very same restaurant — he had the lunchbox at the Los Angeles outpost of Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, and he decided to make a Jewish riff on it. The Korean lunchbox, he told us, is a common school lunch — kids would bring their mix in a metal tin to school, and then, come mealtime, shake it up to combine everything.
Hall’s version combines fried barley, a poached egg, kimchi, plenty of fresh dill, and mild gefilte fish cakes died black by squid ink. It’s presented by a server, then shaken in front of the diners, just as it is at the barbecue joint.
“It gives a cool interactive element tableside,” he adds. Hall also took great pains to source the exact metal tins he saw at the Korean restaurant, to preserve the ritual of the experience.
Whatever the inspiration, it’s an excellent dish — the barley has a nice chewy texture, and a toastier note than rice. Dill adds a great herbaceous note to the tart kimchi, and the poached egg binds everything together in a creamy sort of sauce.
Hall’s made his name on creating odd dishes that draw food tourists (see his risotto’d sunflower seeds or candy-like chewy carrots, if that’s what you’re after), but the Jewish lunchbox is pure comfort food. We could eat one every day.