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Friday, February 12, 2010

Emone Gui (Korean BBQ)

While the idea of Korean barbecue is almost always appealing, the experience is almost always--for me, at least--totally underwhelming. I stopped going to the joints in Manhattan's Koreatown years ago after a) they got to be far too expensive for what they delivered, and b) all but one or two places got rid of the wood embers and replaced them with gas grills. Tonight's meal, however, re-ignited my too-long-dormant passion for Korean grilled meats. Emone Gui is Korean barbecue as I had only vaguely imagined it could be.

Investigating a second-hand tip about a really good Korean barbecue on Union St. near Northern Blvd., I happened upon it a several nights ago. I popped in to pick up a take-away menu for future reference--they didn't have any. What they did have was a very helpful fellow--who turned out to be the owner's son-- working there who told me a bit about the place. It certainly "looked" right (with a bit of practice, a surprisingly reliable guide), even if there were only gas grills. Because the answer in the past had always been "no" everywhere else, I almost forgot to ask him if they had gobchang gui (grilled beef intestine). When he told me it's the house specialty, I assured him I'd be back soon with a friend or two. It took 5 days, and, naturally enough, it was with Jose--and his camera.

We settled on an order of gobchang gui, naturally, and an order of maewoon samgyupsal gui--grilled pork belly that has been marinated in hot pepper paste. These were accompanied by a marvelous array of banchan that included everything from the usual kimchi and kongnamul (beansprouts) to shredded potatoes and pieces of pancake to soft-shell crabs in hot pepper paste (!) to a cold soup and a hot cabbage stew to steamed egg. And everything had that "homemade taste":

The removal of the napkin covering the grilling intestine (presumably to keep down splattering):

Close up of the grilling pork belly:

The full grill:

I can assure you everything tasted even better than it looks. Considering the feast one is presented with, its stunningly high quality, and the significantly-lower-than-Manhattan-Koreatown prices, this place is an absolute bargain.

The only way this place could be better would be if they replaced those gas grills with wood embers.

Edited to add a caveat: based on a subsequent visit, it would appear that solo diners should skip this place altogether, unless one wants a soup/stew dish (which are available almost anywhere). They enforce a "2-order minimum" for barbecuing at the table, and the stir-fry dishes are disproportionately expensive, so, with a totally unfounded sense of what proved to be false optimism, I ordered one of the barbecue dishes prepared in back in the kitchen. What emerged was a hot plate of dried-out meat hardly worth eating. They also saw fit to greatly reduce the selection of banchan they were willing to offer just one lowly person, keeping it the most run-of-the-mill stuff. When I had finished the little dribble they initially brought, they had to practically be coerced into bringing me any more. This is also the very first time I can remember having to ASK--repeatedly--for rice in a Korean restaurant. If this had been my first visit, I never would have returned. So go with a group.

Emone Gui (Korean BBQ)
36-26 Union St., Flushing 11354

(7 train to Flushing-Main St., 1 block east on Roosevelt, then left on Union St.)

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