Flushing: At Picnic Garden, The Galbi Calls The Shots
"It would take an essay in excess of my 750 word allotment to describe the full glory of the buffet."
Amid mild protest, I impressed upon my dining companions another serving of all-you-can-eat meat, to be grilled at the table. We were at Picnic Garden in Flushing, and to their dismay, I'd gone to the self-serve buffet table and fetched a fatty swath of samgyeopsal (pork belly), a healthy mound of bulgogi (marinated and sliced sirloin), grainy and livery tangles of gopchang (spicy small intestine) and fiery dak galbi (marinated chicken thighs). It was all thoughtful filler, really. I'd dutifully stopped by the banchan station and picked up a bowl of sliced green chili peppers, a pepper with subdued but lingering heat, which are meant to be coated with dwenjang (salty fermented bean paste) and serve as an appetite stimulant. But as it turned out, the only stimulant that one needs at Picnic Garden, is their excellent galbi (marinated short rib), which is served by the tub-full.
The entry fee for Picnic Garden is now $27.99 for dinner and $17.99 for lunch—a number which has steadily gone up in increments over the years, reflecting the rising cost of ingredients and the listing supply / demand curve. Indeed, Picnic Garden is hardly a secret at this point. It's not only a neighborhood staple, but a much loved and discussed subject of food blogs and pundits devoted to the pursuit of Korean food, or at the very least, the mutual love of gluttony.
Service is pleasant but impersonal, and a bit rushed at times. A harried waitress will pause at your table long enough to snip your meat into bite-sized morsels, perhaps take a drink order, and deliver another bowl of fresh lettuce. She won't linger to chat or up-sell you another bottle of soju, but she'll survey the table long enough to make sure you're still actively eating and drinking and not just taking up space. The rest is in the diner's hands—the grilling of the meat, the condiments, and even napkins, utensils and plates.
As for ambiance, Picnic Gardens' dining room isn't much of a looker; instead it oozes practicality. It's utilitarian chic, with deep wooden benches and long ventilation pipes centered over the table top grills, and lined with bare wooden walls (except for a smattering of ironic no-smoking signs). The soundtrack is a steady roar of meat- and soju-driven chatter and jubilation, and the seemingly endless buffet table takes center stage.
And bless me, that buffet table. Part of me thinks that they supply a variety of raw meat, banchan, condiments, and other side dishes in such quantity as to distract the eater from the high ticket items, such as the galbi. (Part of me thinks that the owner is laying down their bargaining chips for sainthood.) Regardless of the restaurant's motives, it would take an essay in excess of my 750 word allotment to describe the full glory of the buffet, which is dutifully re-stocked and wiped down throughout service.
My dining companion's quibbles were well intentioned. One should focus on that thoroughly luscious, show-stealing galbi, with a resilient smokiness that'll not only permeate each luscious bite, but your clothes and even your skin for the rest of the day. Wisdom would dictate that they would serve lesser quality stuff, and that could be the case, but one can't be discerning when you're on your 4th or 5th helping. In our experience, the galbi always goes down a treat, with the right amount of sweet, salty, fatty, tender, and meaty notes. And plucked sizzling straight off the grill, boy, is it good. As such at Picnic Garden, distractions run rampant, but stick to your guns and stay with that stick-to-your-ribs galbi.
14742 Northern Blvd, Flushing NY 11354 (map)