By Suzanne Parker
When most Westerners think of Korean food, they think of Korean barbecue and maybe kimchee, but there is so much more to this wonderfully varied cuisine. At Tang on Northern Boulevard at Francis Lewis, you can experiment with Korean comfort food.
Tang is the third American restaurant of the Gammeeok company, the first and second being in Manhattan and Fort Lee, N.J. In Queens they have taken what used to be a Ground Round and given it a sleek, modern Oriental feeling, relying mainly on the bones of the building — high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and a few large, strategically placed paintings — for the effect. Much of the atmosphere is achieved by the traditionally costumed wait staff. The overall impression is quite upscale, which definitely puts it in the impress-your-date-but still-get-off-cheap category.
The placemats are positively educational. They tell the story of makgeolli, Korea’s oldest alcoholic beverage enjoyed for some 5,000 years. They claim that it contains protein and vitamin B complex, “which help maintain a healthy complexion, strong muscle development and accelerate skin regeneration.” They also credit a bottle with containing 70-80 billion lactic acid bacteria which “can strengthen the immune system and destroy harmful bacteria that cause infection and cancer in the intestines.”
We know nothing about the veracity of these claims, but the prospect of getting healthy and hammered at the same time proved irresistible. We ordered a special deal that includes makgeolli and a sampling of various types of jeon, Korean style pancakes.
The makgeolli is served in a large earthenware bowl with a thick wooden dipper and is drunk out of individual bowls. It is a thin, milky rice wine, sweet with a slightly tart, citrusy flavor. It goes down easily.
Tang doesn’t serve the assortment of ban chan, those mini-dishes of this and that we have come to expect from Korean restaurants. They bring a large serving of their signature kimchees — radish and cabbage. Along with the kimchee is a plate of Napa cabbage leaves for rolling up the kimchee taco-style with a dab of fermented bean sauce. Their kimchee finds the perfect balance between fermented and crunchy and isn’t intimidatingly spicy.
Pairs of all the varieties of jeon were represented on the jeon tasting platter. They call them pancakes, but they seemed to have a minimum of flour and a maximum of egg in the batter — almost like mini-frittatas. Of the eight varieties, there were no losers. We scarfed them all, but were partial to the oyster, perilla leaf, and the one layered with pork, vegetable and ground mung bean. This is fabulous snacking fare, and given they’re open 24 hours, they’re ready for a nosh any time that you are.
Bibimbap is comfort food that every Korean mother makes. It can be a homey clean-out-the-fridge dish, or done with style and care as it is here. Bimibap is essentially slivers of stir fried foods over rice, which is eaten by mixing the ingredients with the rice and adding hot sauce to taste. Tang carefully arranges shredded Korean-style marinated beef with root vegetables, mushrooms, seaweed and other miscellaneous bits we couldn’t identify in an attractive pattern over the bowl of rice. A small bowl of their ox-bone broth is served on the side to add extra beefy flavor. Comforting indeed.
Sad to say, the seolleontang (ox-bone soup), the dish that is considered the specialty de la maison, was the one dish we were not able to appreciate. “Tang” means soup in Korean, and this is the dish the restaurant’s name references. It is a cloudy broth with a strong beefy flavor and no discernable seasoning. It comes with delicate tender slices of boiled brisket and thin wheat flour noodles. The idea is to season it yourself with salt, pepper, and sliced scallions. White rice can also be added. To us, it tasted like something to serve to a convalescent, but that’s probably a cultural bias. It is puzzling that a people who relish fiery hot chilies and consume massive quantities of garlic also adore this tame broth, but they do.
The Bottom Line
Tang offers a deliciously different style of Korean fare that is very accessible to Western palates. Their wait staff is helpful to non-Koreans who are uncertain about how to consume the various dishes. We will definitely be back for more.
196-50 Northern Blvd.
Flushing, NY 11358
Price Range: Appetizers: $6.95-9.95, entrees: $8.95-$23.95
Cuisine: Korean comfort food specializing in seolleongtang, jeon & bibimbap
Setting: Large, high ceilinged, stylish modern Oriental.
Service: Attentive, helpful to the uninitiated
Hours: 24 hours daily
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit Cards: Yes
Noise Level: Acceptable
Handicap Accessible: Yes