Move over Japanese Steakhouses. I've got the next best Asian attraction for you and your group gatherings. It's time to consider Korean BBQ straight out of Koreatown for your next culinary adventure. This is definitely one of the most underrated neighborhoods in Manhattan and I'll admit it, I was the first to judge. With blocks lined in neon lights, scaffolding, Radissons, and endless Korean restaurants, it's never really called my name. While I have been tempted by the culinary aspect, I was too overwhelmed with even the thought of deciphering the tourist traps from the authentic finds. Well, I should have known. The spot with the fewest Americans, the brightest lights, and a faux stone mountain built into the walls would be the real deal. But, it's really thanks to my clever friends who so easily took on the dirty work that I happened upon Kum Gang San. I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but spending an evening in midtown was the perfect way to kick off my golden year.
I had to do a double take after we were seated and noticed a white grand piano nestled amidst the mountains that made up the wall. And, it was not long before the entertainer scaled the range and actually began his performance. We were entertained on all fronts. Within minutes of placing your order, the table will be covered from one end to the next with traditional small plates. I am not even going to attempt to identify all of them as I am still not sure what most were but these range from pickled kimchi to sweet potato shoots to white radish sprouts. While some were definitely more appealing than others, I loved sampling each dish as I am certain that even on a return visit I may never see some of them again.
Knowing I was as close to Korea as I have ever been, we opted for their most classic dishes. The official meal really began with one of my favorite Korean specialties, Pa Jun (pancake). They served us a seafood and rice cake served with a spicy sauce. This was followed by Bi Bim Bap - an assortment of lightly sauteed vegetables, ground beef, steamed rice and fried egg which they so nicely divided up among the ten of us. Different from several of the Korean BBQ spots I have visited, but similar to a Japanese Steakhouse, they really take care of you here. When it was time for the main attraction, we were front and center, but carefree. Our waitresses diligently lit our burners and stepped back while keeping an eye on the prize. We may have felt like we were cooking our meal, but I'm pretty sure I didn't lift a finger. And, to be honest, I was just fine with that. We ordered three different kinds of BBQ - jumbo shrimp, beef, and assorted vegetables. The beef was incredible. Whether it was the cut of meat or their "special sauce" that is mentioned on numerous occasions throughout their menu, I'm sold. They had me at special sauce.
It was certainly a night to remember - and certainly a night of firsts. Kum Gang San gave me my first birthday celebration above 14th street, my first complimentary dessert involving fruit loops, and my first live musical serenade coming from a wall. This is exactly why I love New York - it never ceases to amaze and surprise me. A night of firsts was certainly a great way to kick off my last year of the 20s.
Kum Gang San
49 W 32nd St (5th and Broadway)
New York, NY 10001
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):