Kum Gang San
138-28 Northern Blvd, Flushing Queens 11354; map); 718-461-0909; kumgangsan.net
Kids' Amenities: High chairs, stroller storage, gardens, fish ponds, waterfalls
Best Dishes for Kids: Bibimbap, Jap Chae, Hae Mul Pa Jul, Bugolgi
Cost: entrees $12.95-18.95, barbecue $26.96-28.95
Serious Eats: New York has been on a Korean food kick lately, and while there may be other restaurants in Flushing, Queens offering extraordinary renditions of particular Korean dishes, Kum Gang San (in Flushing, with a second branch on 32nd Street in Manhattan) is an excellent choice for parents searching for a solid Korean meal with their children. The restaurant is large (with gardens, fish ponds, and waterfalls); the food is delicious, plentiful, and easily enjoyed by children; and the service is extra-attentive to the little ones.
The restaurant was nearly full on a Saturday at 6:00pm, with many families with kids already having their dinners (Kum Gang San is open 24/7, and has parking). We were welcomed by a couple of very sweet hostesses, who accompanied us to the table and sat my daughter on her high chair. They brought hot tea for the adults and cold water for her, as well as a "special" spoon (I think it was a sugar spoon).
I asked the hostess what kids usually like to eat at the restaurant, and was pleasantly surprised to hear "everything": she explained that the food is made to be shared and parents and children enjoy the same dishes; and that children are introduced to all different tastes and spices from this experience. I was smitten right away by the warmth of the service, which remained excellent, fast, attentive, and full of smiles throughout the meal.
Korean meals start with series of Banchan dishes, a large (and complimentary) assortment of small vegetables, fish, tofu, egg and seafood sides. I was very happy with Yoengeun jorim, the lotus root simmered in soy sauce and sugar, while my daughter especially liked the Gyeran-jjim, a dish of steamed, seasoned eggs, and the grilled fish. Kum Gang Sam offers both hot and mild versions of their famous Kimchi, but my daughter doesn't seem to be ready for it yet.
The Banchan is only a teaser—eat too much and you'll spoil your appetite for the bounty of food that follows. Soon arrived the Hae Mul Pa Jul ($16.95), the ubiquitous rice-flour, scallion pancakes with seafood, crispy on the outside and edges, and soft on the inside; followed by the Bibimbap ($14.95)—steamed rice topped with sautéed vegetables, beef, and a fried egg. It promptly disappeared between adults and child.
The Bibimbap is a great dish for kids as it contains everything you want your child to eat in a meal—vegetables, proteins, carbohydrates. You stir all Bibimbap ingredients together before eating it, adding hot sauce as you wish, so we separated a portion of the mix for my daughter before adding the sauce. She loved her plain version and we adults loved it even more with the added heat.
Jap Chae ($18.95) and Duk Mandoo Guk ($12.95) came next. Kids tend to like noodles and the cellophane noodles in the Jap Chae, stir-fried with vegetables and eggs and seasoned with soy sauce and sugar, were a great hit with my daughter and everyone else.
Eating a big bowl of hot, brothy soup might prove challenging to kids, but my daughter also enjoyed the rice cakes and meat dumplings we fished out of the Mandoo soup.
A Korean restaurant experience is not complete without the barbecue. We ordered Kalbi ($28.95) and Bul go ki ($26.95)—marinated short rib and rib eye steak, grilled right before your eyes on the table (nervous parents might opt to have the meat grilled in the kitchen and then brought to the table; we just placed the highchair strategically far from the grill). The server places the slices of meat on the slightly domed hot plate of the built-in gas grill on the table. When the beef is cooked, you place it atop a crunchy red leaf lettuce leaf, and top it with thinly sliced scallions, jalapeno peppers, garlic and a miso sauce, then you roll it up, and eat it. While kids might object to the toppings and lettuce, the meat by itself, sweet and salty from the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and garlic marinade, is irresistible.
After such a bountiful meal I was looking forward to the fresh fruit that comes as a courtesy dessert in Korean restaurants, but this time around we had a sweet potato frozen yogurt, to my daughter's delight. We left Kum Gang San wanting to come back, perhaps in the summer, for a late, leisurely lunch on a weekend, to take advantage of the gardens and waterfalls—always a great distraction for kids who don't want to sit still on the table.