Posted by Steve Ward
Let me preface by saying this: I’m no food snob. I have friends that can taste a cookie and make comments like, “hmm, a little more vanilla and it would be perfect,” or “It has just a little too much baking soda” but that’s just not me.
That being said, I love eating and drinking. I seek out wine tastings, I’m always on the look out for new restaurants, and I relish a sprawling all-you-can-eat buffet. This is also how, at 27 years old, I found my weight approaching 280 pounds (127 kgs).
Over the past couple of years I’ve dropped about 50 pounds (~22.7 kgs) by changing my lifestyle and revolutionizing the way that I think about food. So it may surprise you that I’m a huge fan of Doughnut Plant, NYC, the latest import to Korea from the United States.
A lot of people will be turned off by the high prices at Doughnut Plant (That’s ‘plant,’ like a factory, NOT ‘planet’). In fact, the cheapest doughnut comes in at 2,400 won, and the prices go much higher, for a bigger-sized cake doughnut. Yet, I was curious to see if it was worth the price, so I decided to contact ZenKimchi and ask if he’d be interested in coming along for the ride.
Though the official Korean Doughnut Plant website (www.doughnutplant.co.kr) lists only a single location nearby Kon-guk University Station, there are two nearby Gangnam Station (exits 2 and 6), and I’ve heard reports of another spotted near Myeong-dong. Joe and I decided to hit up the larger of the two Gangnam station locations, outside of Exit 2.
Walking straight from Exit 2 for just a few minutes, about halfway to Woosung Apt. Intersection, you’ll find yourself walking the black carpet leading into the doors of an eatery designed to look more like a hip cafe than a doughnut shop. This definitely ratchets up the anticipation that you might be about to partake in the communion of something really special.
Choosing the doughnuts to try out wold prove to be quite a challenge. I’d done some research beforehand (okay, to be honest, I cheated and ate there once before too) and I knew that the ‘Blackout’ was their flagship doughnut, so I knew we’d give that one a shot. Joe and I decided to collectively buy four doughnuts and two cups of coffee to split between the two of us for review.
The massive Cinnamon Bun caught my attention, being reminiscent of the famous cinnamon rolls I’d buy with my college roommates at the Eagleville truckstop diner in the middle of the night while cramming for tests. So I decided to order the Cinnamon Bun, the Blackout, and an espresso. Joe finally settled on the Creme Brulee and Vanilla Bean doughnuts.
Sitting down to dig in, we noticed that the doughnut plant staff had already cut each doughnut into four pieces and given us small forks. For review/doughnut sharing purposes this was great, so we didn’t waste any time before digging in.
I knew the blackout was something special before I’d even completed my first bite.
My teeth sunk into three different textures of chocolaty goodness that really surprised my. The crust of the doughnut with a little bit of a crispiness was expected, but the cakey texture of the doughnut and the gooey fudge marbled throughout the doughnut all blended together for the finest doughnut-eating experience I’d ever had.
That is until I tried some of Joe’s Creme Brulee doughnut. I have never in my life tasted creme brulee, so I don’t know how well it is has been co-opted into doughnut form, but all I can say is the doughnut was fantastic. These two doughnuts weren’t just good, they were interesting in the same way that a fine wine with many different dimensions to its character is interesting. Only when I drink wine I just nod my head and pretend to understand what the instructor is describing. When it came to these doughnuts, the qualities were pronounced enough that even a luddite like myself could thoroughly enjoy them.
Unfortunately the Cinnamon Bun just didn’t stack up to the high expectations we had after trying the first two doughnuts. Joe pointed out that it was just too cakey for a cinnamon bun and I agreed with his assesment, but there was something else about it that just missed the mark for me. Maybe it just didn’t stand a chance when compared to the fond memories I have of fresh cinnamon rolls, piping hot, with fresh icing poured over the top of it while joking around with my college buddies in the dead of winter.
Finally, Joe’s Vanilla Bean doughnut didn’t stack up against the first two doughnuts either. Since this is the closest thing Doughnut Plant has to a ‘plain’ doughnut, we probably should have tried it first. It definitely wasn’t bad, and it had interesting funnel cake notes on the finish, but I probably still wouldn’t order it again considering the other doughnuts on offer that are practically works of art.
As for the coffee, the espresso there wasn’t anything special, most likely suffering from the same problems as Starbuck and Coffee Bean coffees in Korea, which is to say the beans are roasted on another continent then put on the slow boat across the Pacific Ocean where they inevitably go stale, but Joe thoroughly enjoyed his Salted Caramel Latte and said that he would recommend it.
On our way out, I decided to order a few more of the novelty doughnuts for later ‘review.’ I ordered the Cassis Choco, Espresso, and Tres Leches doughnuts. I didn’t eat these until later though, so they lost some of their freshness. Still, I thought the Cassis Choco doughnut was pretty great and I imagine that, when eaten fresh, it might approach the greatness of the Blackout and Creme Brulee doughnuts. The others were very good, but again, just not in the same league as the top tier doughnuts there.
So how does Doughnut Plant fit in with my new, healthier, lifestyle? It’s simple. These days when it comes to food, I’m thinking about quality over quantity. It was hard for me to give up things I love like John Belushi’s little chocolate doughnuts, cheapo all-you-can-eat buffets and convenience store ice cream cones that Korean companies have perfected. So rather than relying on willpower, which almost always fails, resulting in a downward spiral of giving in to your temptations and feeling bad about yourself, which just leads to even worse food decisions as you eat your feelings, I choose calculated indulgences. I’ll pay the extra money for doughnut plant, a hotel buffet, or Cold Stone Cremery and I’ll plan it carefully and I’ll make an effort to enjoy and feel good about every second of the experience. The next day I feel sated and ready to get back to my salads and smoothies.