Going on a date always involves a gamble. Going on a date to a bi-level Korean BBQ restaurant involves a spin of the roulette wheel plus a roll of the dice plus a horse race. It could go well, the odds paying off as you impress one another with your chopstick skills and grilling techniques. It could not go well, and you might discover that your date can't pronounce "hunk yumso chungol" or, worse, finds goat meat chowder way too mainstream. Or you could accidentally set your date on fire.
At the very least, a meal at Kang Suh gives you the opportunity to get to know each other. Bypass the dreary downstairs sushi bar in favor of the upstairs, with its gas grills built into the tables and huge vents overhead. If possible, sit against the giant windows so you can overlook West 32nd.
The kimchi jeon ($14.99) were light red and huge. Each surprisingly mild bite crunched, even though it took a while for us to eat it, focused as we were on the complimentary banchan. We particularly liked the pickled vegetables and sweet triangles of fish cake.
The haemool japtang chigae ($15.50) arrived bubbling hot and smelling of the ocean. We identified mussels, prawns with heads still attached, cuttlefish, and squid, but part of the fun was dipping the ladle down and not knowing what might appear from the seafood-and-vegetable-doused-in-chili-peppers depths. The spirited broth caused a budding cold to disappear instantly.
Unfortunately, if just one person at the table orders from the BBQ menu, the dish is cooked in back, denying you the pleasure of searing your own meat. Our saeng kalbi ($26.99) featured tender, chewy, fatty cubes. On their own, the short ribs were bland, so we gratefully dunked them into the thin, salty sauces provided alongside.
Next time we'll get saewos gui (shrimp, $26.99) and jayook gui (pork, $24.99) and do it ourselves. Pricey, perhaps, but getting in touch with our inner cave-people is totally worth the expense.
A helpful waiter arranged our photo shoot, with its comical amount of food. When we praised the gochuchang (red pepper paste), another immediately told us where to buy it and how to use it at home. A few tables over, women gossiped in Flemish, pausing occasionally to make sure no one nearby understood. Their secrets were safe. Elsewhere Korean men shared a vat of woojok tang (ox-feet soup, $13.99) and a German mother and daughter debated what to order. Around us, Justin Bieber sang a duet with Ludacris. Just your average night in Midtown.
New York is a place where people of diverse backgrounds come together, bonding over a mutual love of bulgogi. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Kang Suh is best for: a date you're ready to take a chance on.