In four days, I leave for a whirlwind, food-focused tour of Korea. Diane and I have been researching for our cookbook for awhile, but this is our chance to get back to the motherland and remind ourselves of what made us want to write this book in the first place. Which is an important thing, as Korean food in the U.S. often leaves me feeling a little dissatisfied.
Case in point: Picnic Garden in Flushing, New York.
It’s an exciting premise–an all-you-can-eat, do-it-yourself Korean barbecue. It escapes the greatest pitfall of buffets, food sitting for hours in a steam table, because the meat at the buffet is raw and meant to be cooked at your table. The rest of the buffet is filled with white rice, purple rice with beans, some glass noodles (chapchae), two kinds of kimchi, sliced-up scallion pancake, etc., etc. And the variety of meats available is definitely impressive. There’s plenty of galbi or marinated short ribs, spicy pork bulgogi, squid marinated in a sweet soy sauce, sausages, shrimp, chicken, even offal like intestines and tripe. Definitely not for your friends who don’t like to think about the fact that their meat comes from animals.
And good value! Most of us had a beer or two, and we ate as much as we wanted for about $34 each.
The restaurant had the right atmosphere, the kind that encourages comfortable camaraderie. It’s a wonderful place to eat greedily with friends who won’t be offended when you overreach for the grill, who think ending up smelling like meat is a fun Sunday night activity.
But it’s not the kind of Korean food that makes me giddy, that makes me even more proud to be Korean than I normally am. It was plentiful, but it was business-like. There was nothing wrong with it, but there was no particular love in it either. Picnic Garden is what it is, which is a lot more than what I can say of a lot of restaurants in New York. It just made me wistful, and even gladder that I am going home very soon.
So thank you, Picnic Garden, for whetting my appetite.