Thursday, August 19, 2010

Restaurant review: Kum Gang San

Sometimes, usually as I’m commuting or looking for parking, I hate living in downtown Flushing.  But most of the time I love it.  I live in a lovely, mostly quiet neighborhood, that although full of large apartment buildings is a calm vision of well kept lawns and large oak trees.  The area is clean and safe, and my neighbors are friendly.

And we’ve got food.  Sure the usual American fare is available – there are a couple diners, lots of pizza, fast food, a few bakeries, Chinese take-out, all the “normal” stuff. But then there are the Korean BBQ’s.  I haven’t ventured in too many – in my area some of the Korean places are really, really Korean.  Not that they wouldn’t serve me, my money is as good as anyone’s, and as a whole the Korean’s in my neighborhood are a very welcoming and friendly bunch.  No, the problem is more a language barrier – menu’s are written entirely in Korean, and the wait staff as often as not in the smaller places speak only the most basic English, if any.  Which is a real shame because some of those places smell wonderful.

But there is one restaurant that has a great English menu, and very accommodating staff.  Kum Gang Sang on Northern Blvd has never let me down.  It’s my standby restaurant I take people to the first time they come to Flushing (Megan, I know you are reading this, and really poking your husband for a visit now), or even if they’ve been to Flushing, if it’s their first Korean meal.  Although most people enter as skeptics, everyone exits a fan.

They are a primarily Korean restaurant, although they boast several Japanese dishes as well… but even those are Korean style.  The sushi is awesome, but it’s slightly different then what I have come to expect as [American] Japanese sushi.  For example, take my favorite roll ever, the dragon roll (pictured); sure the Koreans still make it with eel, rice, nori and avocado, like the Japanese do.  But at Kum Gang Sang the second fish is generally crab, not salmon, and the eel is twice the size and on the outside of the roll, whereas Japanese style has the eel inside the roll.  Korean dragon roll is a great starter sushi in that all the fish is cooked, so although its eel, which can be intimidating for some people, at least its not raw, which I think for most sushi-virgins is the most frightening part.

Like many Korean BBQ restaurants, Kum Gang Sang has gas grill tables.  There is literally a gas grill built into the center of each table and a vent built into the ceiling.  You can order platters of raw meats, and its grilled right there in front of you, on your table.  Not like a Benihana – it’s not a show, it’s just a grill.  The wait staff starts your meat cooking, and will check on you periodically, but for the most part, you are expected to flip it, remove it when it’s done and add more as you want it.

There is a whole menu of already prepared for you foods as well however and although as often as not, I’m just randomly choosing dishes based on their descriptions or pictures, I have never been served anything I didn’t like.  Some dishes I perhaps won’t order again, but none have ever been terrible.  The seafood & scallion pancake, called pa-jun, is a particular favorite of mine (after the dragon roll of course).  And there are about 20 variations of the traditional bi-bim-bap (pictured), which I’m not overly fond of, but is very popular. 

But the real gem about the place is the sides.  One of my favorite games to play with folks during their first visit is “name a number”.  I make everyone pick a number between 1-8.  That’s the number of sides you have to try. Because no matter what you order, the table is brought 8 small side dishes (pictured).  They vary each time, although kim chi is always one of them.  Sometimes you get a bowl of slivered squid in a sweet and spicy sauce (so good!), sometimes tiny little pickled fish, always all sorts of weird and wonderful vegetable dishes, perhaps some tofu, and I have on occasion been served items that I could not begin to guess about.  The sides are really accessible food – often vegetable based, and rarely in thick or overwhelming sauces, so even though they are totally foreign it’s never anything too intimidating to at least try.

Each meal also comes with a complimentary bowl of miso soup and a dessert.  I’ve always wondered if Korean’s get to choose their dessert (I suspect they do) as there are a few different ones available.  But I’ve never been offered a choice, and it’s never really mattered – for me, the surprise is half the fun.  They just bring a dish for each of us and expect we’ll like it.  And really its dessert – smooth, creamy, sweet – how can you go wrong?  I do prefer the ice bean over the yogurt-like frozen stuff, but ultimately both are tasty.

The only thing I don’t recommend is the jinro, a traditional Korean grain alcohol.  Some people like it, but to me it tastes like what I imagine isopropyl rubbing alcohol tastes like. Not too delicious.

Besides the amazing meal, Kum Gang San is a visually beautiful place with red wood tables, lots of foliage and a koi pond and waterfall by their rear (to the parking lot) entrance.  And it’s quite affordable – most entrees are in the $12-16 range, and considering that includes the soup, the sides and the dessert, it’s a veritable feast for mere pennies.  A true “must eat at” locale when in Flushing.  And bonus – its 24-hour, so if you get a hankering for kim chi for breakfast, no worries, they can serve it to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment