I recently had a meal here when celebrating a friends birthday party. Here’s a quick rundown of everything I tried:
This chicken with peanuts dish was really tasty. Nicely fried morsels of dark meat.
These fried beef dumplings were better still. I could have eaten a dozen.
While I’m not a huge tofu guy, these fried cubes were pretty tasty. I’d eat them again, but definitely not over the other two apps above.
Next up, beef noodles. These were ultimately pretty middle-of-the-road. Nothing stand-out about them.
The star of the show, however, was this pork belly dish. So much nice quality belly, with some chiccharones and a great spicy bean curd dip to boot. Awesome.
The octopus was perfectly cooked and had a great crunchy texture on the outside, but there was just something about it that bugged me. It had a flavor that reminded me of the smell of dried fish food. Perhaps it was something added on top for seasoning.
Lastly, their pickles and kimchi items are superb here. Some of the best I’ve had.
I recently had the pleasure of dining with a bunch of food friends at this new Szechuan joint in Flushing called Guan Fu. They do an incredible job of showcasing the different kinds of spice that the cuisine is known for (numbing as well as heat), while also developing intense, robust flavors that you can actually taste. Contrast with many other Szechuan joints in NYC that just blow your mouth out with heat and numbness, leaving you unable to actually enjoy the food.
That’s not to say that the food here isn’t spicy. It sure as heck is! But the balance is so well done that it’s quite impressive. But let me get down to business, because we tried 17 different dishes here. There is a lot to discuss…
The first four dishes were cold preparations.
1. Thinly Sliced Pork Liver
This was nice. No mealy texture or gamey flavor. Good heat from the red chilis. Excellent citrus-flavored sauce.
2. Sweet Fried Pork Ribs
These were awesome. Great crispy texture, super tender, and with just a little bit of heat to gently contrast the sweet.
3. Razor Clams
These were served with Mexican green peppers (likely a poblano or hatch variety) as well as some red Thai chili peppers. Great preparation, and the clams were perfectly cooked.
4. Bean Jelly
This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The bean jelly was reminiscent of a snappy, thick noodle. This was served with chili oil, peanuts, sesame seeds and scallions.
Okay now onto the warm food.
5. “Water Fish” Tilapia
This was both numbing and heat spicy. The fish was served in an over-seasoned broth so as to get all the flavors into the flesh of the Tilapia. In fact, the sauce/broth isn’t meant to be eaten, as is the case with many of the dishes we were served.
6. Dry Pot Frog
This was another favorite of the night. The frog was so tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. It was served with crisp, fried potatoes and lotus root in the mix too. That textural contrast really blew me away. Just be careful of the tiny bones in the frog meat!
7. Sliced Beef With Pickled Cherry Peppers
This was a really fun dish. The peppers were pickled, but the beef and cucumber cooked in the sauce were both fresh (meaning not pickled). Really nice.
8. Hot Pot
In addition to cabbage and mushrooms, this also contained slices of lamb meat and beef meatballs. Awesome flavors going on here when you mixed it all together, and a little bit of numbness from those famous Szechuan peppercorns.
9. Sweet & Crispy Corn
This was a nice way to knock back any heat that might be lingering in your mouth. These little nuggets were a perfect snack. Juicy inside, bursting with kernel corn flavor, but crispy and batter-fried on the outside.
10. Kung Pao Chicken
This is a famous dish, but done right and as close to authentic as you’re going to get. Lots of heat, really tender meat, and a great contrast of flavors and textures in the stir fry mix.
11. Ma Po Tofu
This is another famously spicy dish from the Szechuan region. The sauce here is a blast of heat and numbing spice, meant to be eaten with rice. I skipped the rice, though, and was just spooning the sauce into my mouth, gulp after gulp. It was great!
12. “Fishy Pork”
There is no actual fish in this dish, but it is made with the intent of giving the diner the essence or flavors of fish. The actual protein here is shredded pork, and it is delicious.
13. Hand Ripped Cabbage With Pork Belly
Bacon makes everything better, especially cabbage. This was a really nice way to get a veggie into the mix other than incorporating peppers and onions into a stir fry.
14. Double Pepper Chicken
Wow. Just when you thought Kung Pao was a kick in the balls, you discover double pepper chicken. The two peppers are green chilis (jalapeños) and red chilis (Thai chilis). But the sneaky spice here is the numbing Szechuan peppercorns that are also worked into the dish. Excellent.
These head-on giant shrimp were excellent. They even serve small shrimp where you can eat the shell as well.
16. Green Beans
I love how the veggie comes out last. These were simple and delicious though. A welcome addition to the meal.
17. Fried Sesame Cakes
I’ve had these babies before and I love them. These were filled with a squash mash or paste of some kind. I generally like the red bean or mung bean pastes better (they’re a little sweeter).
That about does it. I really want to come back here and try more stuff, or even just put down full portions of my favorite dishes from this trip, like the bean jelly and dry pot frog. Get your ass out here and try this stuff ASAP!
GUAN FU SZECHUAN
39-16 Prince St
Flushing, NY 11354
My wife picked up a Gilt City deal for David Burke’s joint at Bloomingdale’s. I noticed some nice looking sandwiches, a decent looking burger, and a hanger steak on the menu, so I was psyched to try it out.
Unfortunately, the special menu for the flash deal eliminated all of the things I was interested in trying: pastrami sandwich, French dip, burger, and hanger steak frites. But not to worry! This deal actually supplied us with a LOT of food, and, contrary to out last experience with a Burke joint (Fabrick), the food here was really good.
They start you with warm cheddar popovers. I can eat a basket full of them. Very tasty.
I ordered the grilled tofu Thai peanut salad to start (please don’t kill me). It was actually really good! It had an acidic pop to it from the various citrus and fish sauce additives, and good texture from the jicama and cabbage slaw.
My wife had the tomato soup, which was velvety smooth, topped with a Peter North -like splash of basil oil, and accompanied by a miniature grilled cheese sandwich.
For my entree, I had the grilled salmon.
It was cooked to a nice medium temperature, and it sat on a bed of slaw that was similar to my starter salad, only heavier on the slaw component as opposed to the lettuce. It also had a pop of cumin in it that altered the flavor profile a bit. The salmon skin had a great crisp to it as well.
My wife had chicken Milanese; breaded and fried tender chicken cutlet, topped with arugula and shaved Parmesan cheese, and garnished with grape tomatoes and lemon wedges.
There was a nice tomato-based sauce underneath too, but just the right amount so that nothing got soggy or smothered.
For dessert, I had this chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. I usually don’t go for chocolate cakes, but this was delicious.
My wife had the sorbet with fresh fruit. Really nice, actually, when you mixed both desserts together for a bite.
If you can still find this deal online, I recommend it. While they severely limit the menu on you, what you do get is good quality and a lot of it. You’l leave full, and with a feeling that you got a good deal.
DAVID BURKE AT BLOOMINGDALES
1000 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10022
This joint just opened up a month ago on 9th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets.
Some things that caught my eye were that they served Hakata style ramen, which I am generally a fan of (thick, pork bone soup), and they also offer a matcha ramen, which sounded really unique. My wife and I tried them both.
First the green tea matcha ramen:
My wife got the lunch special deal for $12, which comes with a side of flavored rice (or extra noodles). This is the wasabi rice, with dried bonito flakes:
Watch them wiggle!!!
Anyway back to the ramen. This was very light (vegetarian), but it had an interesting, savory green tea flavor to it.
Very good for those looking to get a ramen fix but cut the calories in the process. It came topped with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, scallions and what I think was some kind of bready, fried tofu cake.
The flat, straight noodles were excellent. That goes for both bowls, too. However the Hakata style ramen was a bit too thin for my liking, despite the mushrooms being nice.
You choose bamboo shoots or mushrooms, for some reason. To get both is extra, like the egg.
Egg was perfect, but the pork was just one slice and very chewy. Bummer there.
There was still one other ramen bowl that I wanted to try, with a yuzu paste involved, so I’ll be back, for sure. I just don’t think this broth is thick enough for my Hakata, tonkotsu fix.
My wife and I went to this Chelsea location with a Groupon deal. While the food doesn’t really look pretty, we both agreed that it was good. We started with lemongrass crusted fried tofu. The texture was similar to a silken tofu style that you might find in a miso soup, but a bit more structured.
We also had a duck salad. I was hoping the duck would be more crispy. It felt at times that the bits of duck were chewy or overcooked, but the salad was a nice crisp cabbage base that was dressed with a sour fish sauce.
For me, the star of the meal was this clay pot pork belly stew with potato, tofu and egg. Sometimes these can get too salty, but this was just right. The broth was nice with rice as well.
Last, we tried a noodle dish that ended up being similar to banh cuon, even though it was called something completely different on the menu. It had grilled pork, bologna style ham, cucumbers, bean sprouts, cilantro and flat, wide noodles. It was dressed in fish sauce. The meats were excellent and the noodles were perfectly cooked:
I recently received an email from Seoul Garden owner Patty Koo to come in for a press meal. My wife had been here about three times in the past, so I knew it has to be a decent joint if she had been there on more than one occasion (she has great taste in food).
Seoul Garden has been a family-run operation since 1998. It started with Patty’s mom’s recipes, which were taught to the chefs and taken from there. It’s done very well through the years, and serves as a K-town staple: a place where you can find home-style cooking basics, nothing too fancy or obnoxiously trendy – just really good, solid Korean food in a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.
The restaurant is located on the second floor, up and off the noisy, crowded and sometimes smelly (in the summer time anyway) ground floor space.
While it may make for less visibility to passers-by, as a diner I actually like this feature of the restaurant, especially because the large windows on the second floor that overlook 32nd Street and the bustling K-town scene offer great natural light into the spacious and comfortable dining room. it makes you feel like you’re up in someone’s apartment too, which is cool.
The place was actually already packed at 6:30 while we were in the middle of our meal. Nice! I guess there’s no shortage of customers, even on a Monday night, right after a shitty day back at the office.
As is the case at all Korean joints, the servers bring out a barrage of delicious banchan. These are usually an assortment of pickled items, like kimchi, for those who don’t know the cuisine. Seoul Garden has an especially tasty set of these, which I’d like to give a little bit more detail on here:
First, and my favorite, was thick glass noodles with crushed pepper, dressed in a light sesame oil of sorts:
Then there was the sauteed peppers, onions and squid in a sweet and slightly spicy sauce. Really delicious.
This potato and Asian pear “salad” was dressed in a slightly sweet mayonnaise and was really refreshing and light:
The bean sprouts had a great texture; fresh snap to the stems and a good nutty crunch to the bean.
Seoul Garden serves up a really good kimchi. It’s spicy and crisp, crunchy and zesty. Almost bubbly or effervescent.
The only downer for me in this entire meal was this bitter green item: possibly dandelion or mustard greens?
It was a little too bitter to be eaten by itself, for me anyway, and a bit fibrous, but there were some sweet pickled radish slices that you could wrap around them to achieve a better balance.
The servers also brought out some lettuce for wrapping up the BBQ meat, and spicy scallion shreds for topping.
The sauce trays below contained: fermented soy bean (sweet and savory together – a really good dipping sauce for the meat), raw garlic (excellent when char grilled), and spicy soy sauce with scallions for dipping shit.
Okay, so now that all of the small plates are set up and ready to go, let me switch gears to some of the amazing starters that we tried.
First was this crispy, yet pillow-soft seafood and scallion pancake.
Inside were coarsely chopped scallions and bits of seafood, like squid tentacles. It was really good as a snack, or to dip into some of the sauces on the table. And it was BIG too: the size of a small pizza pie, and virtually grease-free. Most places serve up really greasy scallion pancakes, but this place was awesome.
This next dish isn’t served at too many Korean joints on 32nd Street. I saw it once before at the place directly next door, and my stomach turned at the thought of it, but that was way back in my less adventurous food days. What is it? Raw blue claw crab that has been marinating in a soy-based sauce, spices and other delicious sweet and potent flavor pastes. The bodies stay pretty soft, so you essentially just squeeze the thing between your fingers and suck all the meat out, like toothpaste from a tube. The consistency is similar to the delicious, soft and edible part of beef fat – it’s like jelly. Only here it is cold and flavored differently. All of this sounds really nasty, I know, but I fucking loved it. I can’t believe I was squeamish about this dish in the past. I’m all in now! That said, both I and Patty realize that this dish is not for everyone. I think it’s one of those “either you love it, or hate it,” kind of things.
The last pre-meat item is an incredible tofu and seafood soup. I know what you’re thinking: “Johnny, what the fuck, man? You just used the words ‘tofu’ and ‘awesome’ in the same fuckin’ sentence. Is everything okay? Did someone kidnap the real JP, or surgically remove his testes?”
Please allow me to explain this dish, which was far and away my favorite of the night. It comes to the table in a small, bubbling-hot cauldron that looks like a miniature witch’s stew.
Beneath the surface is an ensemble of seafood consisting of mussels, squid, head-on large shrimp, teeny tiny baby shrimp, mushrooms and silken tofu.
But wait… it gets better… There was a lone egg on the table when we were being served all the banchan. I was confused. But then it all became clear. The egg was for this soup. It gets cracked into the soup as it bubbles away, and you allow the hot soup to poach the egg to a perfect consistency. Watch:
Fucking… so… good… Spicy, deep and rich with seafood flavor, light yet hearty. Simply put, it is off the charts excellent. It’s called Soondofu, so you know what to order when you go in.
Okay so after that shit the beef was just not even that interesting. Don’t get me wrong – the meat was spectacular and really tasty, but I was blown away by that soup to the point where everything else just paled in comparison.
So they grilled for us at the table: marinated cross-cut, sliced beef ribs with enoki mushrooms, garlic and raw onion slices. That was the first up to bat:
They snip up the meat pieces with scissors for you when they’re ready to take down. Excellent and attentive service, if I may say.
The marinade was good and flavorful, sweet and savory, and the meat was really tender. It came off the bone bits very easily. As you can see below, the sugar element in the marinade gives off a great sticky char when exposed to the heat for long enough.
Next was marinated (same flavor as above) boneless beef short rib, sliced thin, with mushroom, red bell pepper slices and fresh garlic.
Look at how awesome that interior looks. A purpley medium rare!
Essentially this was the same meat as above, but with a slightly different texture to it since it was sliced differently and not on the bone. They both went really nicely with the lettuce wraps, as well as all of the various toppings and sauces I discussed above.
Standard operating procedure at these joints is a slice of orange as a post-meal cleanse. Clean that mouth out with some citrus, bitch!
When it comes to the meat, this place understands: simple and delicious is the key. Heat + Meat = A Tasty Treat. But I have to say, that soup was so complex and delicious, that I consider it an absolute MUST TRY when you dine at Seoul Garden. Put this place on your short list. You won’t be disappointed if you eat what I ate.
And don’t forget to grab a stick of two of gum on your way out. It beats those shitty little red and white breath mints!
34 W. 32nd St.
New York, NY 10001