Kum Gang San
49 West 32nd Street, Midtown
Rating: 3 out of 5 L's
In every New Yorker's restaurant rolodex, there are beloved neighborhood joints, spendy special occasion spots, first date favorites, and destination eateries that are worth the extra subway stops. And then, there are those unlikely old-reliables that are always there when you need â€˜em. Koreatown's splashy and brightly lit Kum Gang San is one of the latter. You might not make a trip solely to admire its roaring waterfall, which cascades down a two-story stone wall beside a white baby grand piano that perches precariously on a rocky ledge, about 20 feet from the ground—but if you've got a cousin who wants to expand her culinary horizons within walking distance from Penn Station, you've got your place. It's great for groups, too, if you've got to meet a gang before an MSG show and don't want to brave the Midtown bar scene. It's even better if you've got to find some late-night grub post-show—this joint is open 24-hours.
Everything about the place is overwhelming. Once you make it past the waterfall, you're handed a menu with over 120 items—most of which you won't recognize if you're not familiar with Korean cuisine. Sure, there are pictures, but would you be able to identify a Duk Man Doo Gook if it hit you in the face? You can't go wrong with the barbecue—especially if you're rolling with a crew. Don't be surprised when seconds after you've ordered your grillables—shrimp, vegetables, chicken, pork, and many cuts of beef—your unabashed server crawls under your table in order to ignite your personal barbecue. And don't be alarmed when your table is suddenly covered by tiny dishes of foods you didn't order—spicy pickled vegetables, chewy round mystery discs, and something that looks like a pile of crisp whole minnows—that's the complimentary banchan meant to snack on while you await your main course. All of it is worth trying, at least once.
Everything from the Korean barbecue menu will be delivered raw so you can grill yourself and roll it up with some rice in the provided lettuce leaves. Not stoked on a DIY dinner? Then share the Kim Chi Pajun ($8.95), a spicy, crisp-yet-creamy kimchi pancake. Even those new to the cuisine can appreciate the Bi Bim Bop ($11.95) a choice of beef, chicken or vegetables served in a hot stone bowl with rice, vegetables, and a fried egg—just pour on the spicy sauce served alongside and mix furiously with your chopsticks until the egg yolk coats everything else. Or go big with the Jae Yook Kim Chi Bokkum ($18.95), a spicy pork and bean curd dish which proves that tofu has such an affinity for meat, it shouldn't be hogged by vegetarians. Chase it all down with some beers or the pink smoothie that the little Korean kids are sipping at the next table—it's called a Strawberry Tender Smile, and it lives up to its name.