We were the only patrons dining at Shinsadong Korean in Great Neck the other night. The restaurant is located on the upper level of the shopping plaza that shares a parking lot with H Mart, the Korean-owned Asian supermarket. Perhaps they get more business at lunch.
This is not the place for Korean food novices; the menu offers English translations but little else in the way of guidance — nor did the friendly woman who took our order.
Soon after that order, our table was filled with banchan, the array of free cold vegetable dishes that inaugurate the Korean meal. None of these was great — although a dish of very white, very sweet potato salad was a conversation starter. But our meal took a sharp turn for the better with the arrival a scallion pancake with seafood (haemul pajeon, $12.95). I’ve had iterations of this dish with little snips of scallion and seafood that turns out to be little more than crabstick and fish cake. But this pancake had big hunks of scallion, whole shrimp and chunks of octopus.
Shinsadong’s menu listed a number of chulpan, “iron griddle,” dishes that came in various combinations of beef, pork, squid and octopus. We ordered the modeum haemul chulpan ($43.95 and more than enough for three) because it featured all of these ingredients. What arrived at our table was an enormous pot — think shallow wok — in which the meats and fish, along with Napa cabbage and Korean rice cake, had been tossed with gochujang, the fermented spicy red pepper paste that is a Korean kitchen staple.
Yes the spicy sauce muted the flavors of every other ingredient. Yes the baby octopus was comically tough. But we all found it difficult to stop eating. I could picture myself six months and 7,000 miles away, enjoying modeum haemul chulpan during a bone-chilling Korean winter.
Shinsadong Korean Restaurant is at 485 Great Neck Rd., Great Neck, 516-466-2629.