I had my first taste of Korean food in New York in the early 1980s, when I worked for a Korean-owned company. My boss took me to lunch and ordered for me from the Korean side of the menu—pungent kimchee, sweet and savory beef bulgogi, and wonderfully varied seafood soups. I ate Korean food several times a month and sampled some of the oddest (sea cucumber?) and most delicious food a kid from Ohio would ever want to eat.
This area is blessed with an abundance of Korean places. There’s a welcoming, generous vibe about the cooking and the vigorous flavors—pickled vegetables, sesame, garlic, fiery peppers. Their love of beef would do Texas proud. Like their neighbors the Japanese, they never met a fish or a vegetable they didn’t like.
I first went to Okki Dokki Korean Restaurant in Fort Walton Beach on a weeknight. They are open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the full menu is available all day. My family and I got there around 6:15 p.m., and the place was closed. I went back by myself the following day for lunch and takeout. My luck was better.
Okki Dokki sits in a row of shops and businesses on Beal Parkway. You need to look sharp or you will miss the modest sign. Inside is a small dining room, with tables for two, four, and more. There are posters and little decorative touches on the walls.
I got there at around 11:30 a.m., and the place was about half-full, mostly military, mostly NCOs. A large table of sergeants was nearing the end of the meal, talking blood types. The staff consisted of a hostess (probably the owner), who took orders, served, cleared away, and took payment, and an unseen cook in the closed-off kitchen.
I was greeted with a smile, offered a seat, and given a menu. Okki Dokki features lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., appetizers, noodles, entrees with beef, chicken, pork and shrimp, and a section titled “Tradition,” with hardcore Korean dishes. Upon sitting, I was served five small dishes containing pickled bean sprouts, cucumbers, radishes, greens, and vegetable pancakes.
I’d checked out a photo of the menu online and had some choices in mind. To dine in, I ordered hae mul pa jun, a hot savory pancake of vegetables, shrimp and octopus in a light batter. For the main courses (to go) I ordered nagki bokkum, stir-fried mini-octopus with vegetables, in a spicy sauce, with rice, an appetizer order of yaki mandu (fried meat dumplings) and beef bulgogi with rice. The server asked how spicy I wanted my entrees, calling my preferences back to the cook.
The vegetables were crisp and fresh. The spice was mid-level. I was about finished when the pancake arrived, crackling and rolling steam from the pan. Green, yellow and orange vegetables, chunks of shrimp and octopus tentacles, were held together by a light, crisply caramelized batter. Soy sauce with sesame comes on the side. You slice and eat it like a pie. I ate half (it’s fabulous) and boxed the rest for home. It’s a perfect meal for one, and a great appetizer to share. Other starters include egg drop soup, seaweed wrapped rice and vegetables (kim bob), and a vegetable pancake.
The takeout arrived, expertly packaged, with more dipping sauce, an extra-large box of kimchee and vegetables, napkins and chopsticks, all on a cardboard tray for transport.
Later that evening, we had the dumplings, bulgogi and octopus with rice. All reheated fine, all were spiced as ordered. The dumplings were crisp and full of meat. The sweet, smoky bulgogi took me back to my New York days, and the plentiful octopus in vegetables had just the right degree of chewiness.
Other main dishes on the menu include fried rice, bulgogi with pork, chicken or shrimp, noodle and seafood soups, dumplings in broth, noodles with pork or beef, spicy soups with meat, beef ribs, vegetables or kimchee, stir fried squid, pork or assorted fish, bean curd, seafood stew and monk fish. I did not see any desserts on the menu.
When I paid at the counter, the hostess bowed her thanks. I took a chance on my very limited knowledge of Korean to thank her in her own language—kamsa-hamnida. I got it right. She smiled very big. I asked her about the place having been closed the previous night. She nodded and smiled again. “We sold all the food.”
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