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.
No matter what the twinkling neon sign in the front window would have you believe, Guh Song is a Korean restaurant. However, it's a sincere interpretation of Northern Chinese dishes—a concept popular in Korea, but slow to catch on in the States (a few restaurants in Manhattan attempt this menu, though none do it particularly well). Similar to American-Chinese dishes, the Koreans have dragooned Chinese influences into their own culinary repertoire, creating their own version of comfort food.
Despite the proclamation of being a Chinese restaurant, the familiarities of Korean dining remain at Guh Song. Upon seating they'll deliver a plate of bright red kimchi, accompanied by slices of sweet, tangy, and neon yellow danmuji (pickled daikon), as well as petals of raw onion, which can be tamed by the accompanying chunjang (black bean paste) and rice vinegar. Soju and Korean beers are available as well, making it tempting to linger over a green bottle or two too many and converse with friends and take in the Korean dramas blaring on the overhead flat screen TV.
The single dish that lures me from the city is jjajangmyeon ($5.95), which is a Korean interpretation of zha jiang mian, a Northern Chinese noodle dish of similar disposition. At its core, jjajangmyeon is a collaboration of hearty wheat noodles and a soothing thick sauce derived from roasted soybeans.
Guh Song doesn't produce their noodles in-house (the best jjajangmyeon restaurants usually will), but they deftly integrate savory, sweet and earthy elements in their homemade bean sauce and apply a steady staccato of crunchy onions to cut the opulence. It's a comfortable pleasure to slurp a mouthful of these pliant and compellingly savory wheat noodles. So comfortable, that in Korea, it's the popular practice for lovelorn and hungry singles to find solace in jjajangmyeon to celebrate Black Day (April 14), an informal anti-Valentine's day.
In some ways, this cuisine shares curious similarities with American-Chinese food. If I were to describe a dish consisting of plump strips of chicken, breaded and deep fried until crisp, and then shellacked with red pepper-flecked sweet and sour sauce, what would it be? In the mall food courts of my youth it was called 'sweet and sour chicken', but at Guh Song, it's tang soo yook ($13.95), and it's done admirably well.
On the other hand, jjamppong ($7.95) is calibrated for the Korean palate, leaning towards bold flavors and spice. Their version is served in a gleaming white bowl, generously filled with a murky red abyss of shellfish, wheat noodles and chopped winter vegetables, mulled in a pungent seafood broth.
There are certainly flashier restaurants of a similar genre to Guh Song. One might be quick to dismiss the dining room, with its unflatteringly bright fluorescent lights, narrow chairs and chintzy décor. But the appeal lies in the elusive chemistry of good food and coziness. Perhaps it's the long tables of families grazing on huge platters of tang soo yook and clinking beer glasses, or watching the restaurant owner float around the dining room, doting on each of the tables like a caring aunt. Whatever your characterization of Chinese comfort food may be, there's happiness to be found at Guh Song.
4724 Bell Blvd, Bayside NY 11361 (map) 718-281-1810