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Who doesn’t love mom’s home cooking? If your mom happens to be Korean, you can refresh your childhood memories at Cana, a cozy Korean eatery occupying a quiet corner in a mostly residential part of Bayside.
It is a Kim family affair with Hyae Sook (mom) doing the cooking while her husband manages the restaurant and her daughters, Andrea and Cathy, wait tables (when not attending classes in grad school). What makes the uhn-nees (sisters) such an asset to Westerners is that they have a command of English as good as any native speaker, and are willing and able to answer questions, offer descriptions, and make thoughtful recommendations.
Superficially, Cana is pretty similar to the many other small, casual Korean eateries that populate the area. The dark wood and white walls are typically Korean. The wooden tables are inset with electric grills. Multiple little dishes of banchan arrive unbidden at the table. All this is what you’d expect. What sets Cana apart are the little things. The fresh perfectly textured tofu, house made daily. The emphasis on soul satisfying soups and stews.
Most of the banchan here are vegetarian. Some of them cross the line into the appetizer category. Along with the ever present kimchees (pickled vegetables with chili pepper and garlic), we were served lovely homemade sliced tofu in soy sauce, slabs of an aspic-like eggplant jelly, steamed eggs sizzling in a red-hot cast iron bowl and japchae (glass noodles sautee with veggies). It’s a fluid, assortment, so expect different items at different times and on different days but plenty of variety.
Start off with the perennial crowd pleaser haemul pajun (seafood pancakes). Chock full of scallions, shrimp, scallops and other marine life, a 10-inch pancake is served in eight wedges, perfect for sharing like a pizza. Cana’s version is light, not too greasy, and generous with the good stuff.
Instead of galbi beef, the usual choice for Westerners in Korean restaurants, we tried Ori Gui (barbecued duck). The circular slices of duck were very fatty, but once grilled on our tabletop burner, they turned out sort of like bacon. They were accompanied by a peppery sesame oil for dipping the duck in before wrapping it taco-style in lettuce along with a random assortment of the pickles and other banchan condiments on the table.
It was fatty, crunchy, zippy, zingy all held together with a bit of refreshing greenery. We ordered it as a combo for two, which includes a choice of either tofu and soybean stew or soft tofu soup, and a small bottle of soju (rice and barley spirits), big enough for two to get looped on or for four to feel pleasantly relaxed.
From the Jeon Gol category, Kimchi Mando (pickled cabbage and dumpling hot pot) beckoned to us. This is a kitchen sink of a dish with every component a worthy addition. In the mandoo (dumplings) meat, glass noodles, greens and tofu fill the most delicate of handmade dough enclosures. They swim in the company of kimchi, noodles, vegetables, rice cakes and more tofu in the paprika-colored broth, made spicy by the kimchee. The kitchen will gladly adjust the degree of spiciness to match your preferences. Our hot pot was just right.
Kimchi Jaeyook Bokeum is a stir-fry dish. Its main components, pork and kimchee, are stir-fried along with garlic and chili pepper, sprinkled with sesame seeds and topped with some fat slabs of Hyae Sook’s lovely tofu. The flavor is spicy and garlicky, with a hint of sweetness.
Our one disappointment was the Cana Bossam: steamed-broiled pork belly served with cabbage wraps and oysters. Unfortunately, there was a problem with their oyster supply that day. They served us the steamed pork without warning us that there weren’t any oysters. The steaming didn’t do much to render the fat on the pork belly, so what we were left with was fatty slices of pork belly, steamed cabbage leaves to wrap it in, and the same assortment of condiments. Had we known about the oyster problem, we would have switched to something else.
Cana serves the kind of food that would make any Uhm-ma (mom) proud. It’s all good but the soups and stews are where Cana really shines. Make sure to try some of those divine dumplings. It makes me wonder how matzoh balls would go with kimchee.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
212-30 48th Ave
Bayside, NY 11364
Price Range: Appetizers: $8.99–12.99, Entrees: $9.99–$14.99, Family specialties: $14.99–$43.99
Cuisine: Korean comfort food
Setting: Small, traditionally decorated.
Service: Friendly, efficient, informative.
Hours: 10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily
Alcohol: Beer, magkeoli (Korean rice wine), Soju (Korean spirits)
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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