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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sol Hyang Gee (솔향기)

After reading about it several weeks ago, I finally rounded up enough people this evening – or more accurately, Audrey Lo rounded up enough people – to make a trip to Sol Hyang Gee worthwhile. And worthwhile it definitely was.

Sol Hyang Gee is yet another Yanbian restaurant on the Flushing eating scene, but this one offers something special. If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with Korean barbecue. This place does table-top barbecuing of skewers over... wait for it... wood embers! The number of Korean barbecue restaurants that use wood embers has been steadily dwindling over the years (I can think of only a couple of others that still do). Most never had them in the first place, and the handful that did have been little by little changing over to the boring gas grills. Sol Hyang Gee sets itself apart from the rest right out of the gate.

Order from a huge selection of skewers – some 25 varieties, including lamb, mutton, pork, beef, various offal, fish, and seafood. Most arrive at the table raw, but some have been partially pre-cooked in the kitchen to be finished at the table. The surprise hit of the evening was mutton. We weren’t quite sure what to expect from what is essentially old lamb, but it grilled up tender and flavorful, perfectly complemented by the salt-and-pepper cumin mixture provided for dipping. The lamb arrived partially cooked, with a nice vinegar and honey glaze. The pork intestine was really lovely – small rounds that crisp up nicely with a bit of char, but stay meltingly tender. The only dud was, oddly, the short ribs. Also pre-cooked with a glaze, the miniscule pieces were as much cartilage as meat – annoying to eat, and, in the end, unsatisfying. And at twice the price of everything else we ordered, definitely not worth the cost. Also note that each variety of skewer lists "number of pieces": one piece equals one small skewer, not the number of chunks on one skewer. Most varieties work out to about $1.20 per skewer.

We also ordered the "house special sizzling bean curd" (鐵板豆腐 – tiě bǎn dòu fǔ, or iron slab tofu), and it was fantastic: squares of very lightly breaded tofu on a bed of sweet sliced onions on a sizzling iron plate, with a beautiful dipping sauce on the side. If you like tofu at all, get it.

Most of the Yanbian places I’ve been to in Flushing feel somehow more Chinese than Korean (and Yanbian is in China, after all), but Sol Hyang Gee feels more Korean. However, the delightful banchan are Yanbian all the way: bean sprout salad, a shredded daikon kimchi with the typical Yanbian flavor balance of a bit of spicy coupled with more than a bit of sweet and vinegary, bamboo shoots with jalapeño peppers (this was not nearly as flavorful as Feng Mao’s version), and boiled peanuts.

If you go, know that their awning says "Sol Hyang Lee". It’s a typo – you’ve found the right place!

Sol Hyang Gee (솔향기)
136-73 41st Ave., Flushing 11355

(7 train to Flushing-Main St., walk 2 blocks south on Main, then left on 41st Ave.)

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