Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Woo Chon: Spicy Delights

This review originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

Woo Chon store front.

I'm pretty familiar with Flushing, having grown up there in earlier years. However, I'd never gotten around to checking out all the Korean restaurants that had shot up in the last five to 10 years. So when my friend from Boston decided to move to Flushing for the summer, I suggested we have lunch in her new neighborhood. What better time to get reacquainted with my old turf?

Woo Chon is one of those restaurants that's easy to miss. For one thing, it's hidden by a burly arm-like branch that dangles precariously in front of the red awning, hiding the sign. A huge "Coors" sign is pasted on dark windows that line the front of the restaurant, along with blown-up shots of various Korean dishes, from the spicy (soondobu chigae - soft tofu stew) to the scintillating (marinated kalbi ribs).

My friend and I were instantly greeted by a male host who showered us with greetings in Korean. Neither my friend nor I are Korean, so we just smiled and nodded in response. Our host led us to the cozy oaken table with a view of the chef's domain in the back. Two rows of small tables sat side by side, separated for privacy by floral glass dividers, with a total of eight or nine tables per side. On the far left corner were longer tables for bigger groups with more giant images of food and spirits on the wall to induce the salivation glands. Ancient Korean paintings depicting bamboo forests and other natural scenery hung on the opposite wall.

Traditionally, Korean restaurants have a grill attached to each table. This is to facilitate the cooking of kalbi or bulgolgi. Waitresses arrive with hearty slabs of raw marinated beef (or pork) ribs and slices. The customers then cook them over the grill to their desired taste. The grills are similar to the Japanese hibachi grills made popular by Benihana.

Bulgolgi Box.

Since it was lunchtime, my friend and I weren't hungry enough for barbecue. After much pondering, I ordered the Bulgolgi Box ($8.99) off the Lunch Special, which came with marinated Bulgolgi, miso soup, a cooling salad, two fried dumplings, rice and a small dish of soy sauce flecked with sesame seeds. The soup was hot and not overly salty; it reminded me of Mom's homemade. I received a generous portion of beef, which I quickly slathered in gochujang, Korean hot red chili pepper paste.

Ban chon appetizer.

Koreans are also known for their ban chon, or appetizers, and Woo Chon did not skimp on those. Our smiling waitress arrived with seven small pickled dishes, ranging from kimchi to seaweed. The ingredients were very fresh, the flavors sharp and tangy with a powerful garlicky infusion.

Daenjang Chigae.

My friend ordered the Daenjang Chigae, or Bean Paste Stew ($7.99), with medium spiciness. In Korea, this thick stew is known as a comfort food and is eaten during cold winters. Tofu, onions, mussels, squid and a variety of other vegetables peppered the stew with rich, pungent flavor.

Service was cordial, if a bit neglectful toward the end. Nobody came to give us our check, so I had to flag them down in person. I found my waitress sitting in the back table eating her lunch with a lady who looked like the owner. Two dainty Baskin-Robbins ice cream-flavored candies came with the bill. My friend popped the Cookies 'n Cream one in her mouth, leaving me with the Mint Chocolate Chip. All in all, not a bad dining experience. I would go again, perhaps for dinner, to try the kalbi and bibimbap. Dinner specials are also available.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Woo Chon
41-19 Kissena Blvd

Flushing, NY 11355

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