Our visit to Sura Chung in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Flushing was initially intended as an investigation of their ojinguh bokkeum (stir fried squid, $16.99), which was recommended by a friend with a keen palate. But this dish isn't the only reason why I will make many repeat visits to Sura Chung in the future.
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Well before I started writing this column, Song's Family Food has been my pit stop before heading back to the city.
Tong Tong Tonkatsu,a Korean ode to the classic Japanese dish, resides in a small one story building on Northern and 147th St. Years ago this space was occupied by a cozy little pojangmacha (Korean drinking hall) that featured ridiculously cheap booze, grubby menus, terrible food and a divey atmosphere suitable for boisterous drinking followed by a nasty hangover.
The Korean diet, at its core, is essentially health food. It's seldom the luscious strips of samgyeopsal (pork belly) or velvety slabs of galbi (short rib), which seep opulence and fat (although both are meant to be eaten with plenty of raw veggies). The everyday meal speaks in vegetables, seasonal and fresh. It demands dietary fiber and it sparingly utilizes economy cuts of animal protein. And it would be unforgivable if it were ever bland or boring. Mediterranean diet be damned, we're on to something here.
For years, I've returned to Geum Sung Chik Naengmyun in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Flushing, which specializes in their namesake dish, chik naengmyun, cold arrowroot noodles. But what makes this preparation of chik naengmyun truly special is the base of irresistible home brewed beef broth, yook soo, which they expertly ply into a variety of classic Korean dishes.
The only stimulant that one needs at Picnic Garden, is their excellent galbi (marinated short rib), which is served by the tub-full.
Their regulars are gin blossomed livery cab drivers downing bottles upon bottles of soju, whole families with rowdy kids in tow, and teenagers looking for a cheap fill-up. The only models in sight are printed on weathered alcohol advertisements, and the only bottles are of soju that cost $10. Being un-cool has never tasted so good.
In Flushing, we'd previously explored a curiously brilliant way to cook a feast of samgyeopsal (pork belly) at Tong Samgyeop Gui, and at Han Joo restaurant, we find a cooking technique we'd never seen or heard of previously—samgyeopsal cooked on a crystal grill.
Debasaki in Flushing is a contender that is unfairly omitted from most "Best Korean Fried Chicken in NYC" lists. This dark horse not only has a full package of food and drinks, but beckons with an interesting riff on Korean Fried Chicken—intriguing enough io warrant a visit to Flushing.
Let's say that you're in Flushing for the evening; perhaps you've finished a meal of samgyeopsal or galbi. And say you're feeling a mite thirsty, but are thoroughly confused by local watering holes around the Murray Hill neighborhood of Flushing. There are sketchy venues that proclaim to be "lounges," although the front windows have been blacked out with a spookily opaque layer of film. Or there's 153 Fusion Pocha (Flushing residents simply call it "Il-Oh-Sam" or "1-5-3" in case you're asking for directions), with its cheerful neon Mets signs, large comfortable booths, and boisterous atmosphere. Although 153 is unapologetically authentically Korean—the waiters are fluent in English, the menus however, are not—it's a fun and a fine place for drinks and a late night snack.
The New York dining scene follows a constant ebb and flow of trends. Consider the large format meal, arguably made popular by David Chang's bo ssäm feast at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Paying respect to the whole animal and primal cuts can now be seen as a feather in the fedora of a restaurant's coolness and credibility. Or consider goat—once a meat for squares, but now in vogue. You can probably see where I'm going with this. Should the adventurous epicure with an outsized appetite aspire for a large format feast addressed to goat meat, a sojourn to Bangane in Flushing, Queens, is a must.
What does "Chinese comfort food" mean to you? The sensible sort seeking authenticity may find happiness in the warmth of congee or a tangle of hand pulled noodles in beef broth. And what of faux-Chinese food? In the comfort of my own home, I'll guiltily binge on chicken by the mythical General Tso and shamefully sup on hot and sour soup with a wide grin on my MSG-inflated face. However, it's possible to eat re-interpreted Chinese comfort food with your head held high at Guh Song in Flushing-Bayside.
Dinner invariably starts with an audible gasp, a muffled squeal, and nervous giggles. You may have seen it on television—perhaps the Korean film, Oldboy, or the Outer Boroughs episode of No Reservations, featuring Anthony Bourdain and David Chang. On the small screen it was a flamboyantly audacious novelty. But if you're at Sik Gaek, located only 20 minutes outside of Manhattan, you're likely here for a reason. Sannakji, or young octopus—dispatched within minutes of consumption, with a cephalopodan nervous system too spirited to calmly accept its demise—arrives at the table still thrashing about. The facial expressions around the table say it all.
It's no secret that New York epicures have a love affair with the pig, especially the fatty, decadent cuts such as the jowl, rind and belly. It's certainly en vogue for pork belly to occupy a prominent place on menus, from trendy eateries to fine dining. But I'd like to let you in on a secret that's too good to keep to myself. There's a restaurant called Tong Samgyeop Gui in Flushing—just a 20 minute hop, skip, and a jump on the LIRR—that serves some of the finest pork belly in New York.
Gamjatang (pork neck and potato stew) is a natural remedy and peacemaker if there ever were one. Unfortunately, this dish is a rarity in Manhattan Koreatown, and one must travel to Flushing to get a true taste. And the gamjatang at Geo Si Gi is as good as any.