Mmmm. . . . Live Octopus . . .

The sign outside

About two weeks ago, I went to this new Korean BBQ place in Flushing with my sister, my dad, and my dad’s girlfriend.  The place is freakin tasty, so don’t let the atmosphere fool you — it’s worth it.

Immediately upon entering through the sliding wooden doors, all the waitrons in the place greet you in Korean and make you feel at ease.  I’d say that they try to make you feel at home, but personally, I don’t own tables with large gas burners in the middle.  I’m guessing most of you don’t have those either, so until then, you’ll have to be made to feel at ease.

The immediate impression is that the seating is almost cafeteria-style seating.  The tables are pushed together into long rows to save space, and all the rows are just a little too close together to be totally comfortable.  For example, I think I was elbowing the poor guy behind me all night.  It was unintentional, I swear!  Even if he was being loud and obnoxious.

Also, for the most part, you’re pretty much rubbing elbows — or even sharing tables — with other patrons.  There are posters of K-pop artists and icons all over the place.  The decor is kind of tacky.  Chopsticks, spoons, and napkins are located in cylindrical canisters between tables, and you pretty much just serve yourself.  While this may serve to keep overhead costs down for the restaurant (and hopefully translate into lower prices for you, the customer), it can still be a little . . . discouraging; but, this is only disappointing if you’re used to fancier fare and service, and it is quickly quelled (thankfully) as soon as the food arrives and the savory aromas hit your nose.

While traditional, run-of-the-mill Korean BBQ choices are available (various seafoods, meats, veggies, etc. that you can grill on the central burner), it was suggested that we try something different.  So, we ordered the “San-Nak-Ji-Chul-Pan,” and thank goodness we did.

The complimentary appetizer was eggs.  A nonstick skillet was placed on our burner, and it almost fell into the fire because it was so cheap and poorly balanced — even after 3 eggs were cracked into it.  A premixed seasoning is sprinkled on top of the eggs — it looks simply like salt with a tiny bit of finely ground black pepper, and it didn’t taste like there was anything else in it.  After the egg cooked and cooked and cooked and no one came by to do anything about them, we decided to just eat them, since they were already totally cooked through.

Our server arrived shortly after we finished to whisk away our egg pan, crank our burner up to high, and slap down a huge, boiling, two-handled pan, which was almost overflowing with three different sizes of clams, mussels, crab, lobster, calamari (rings of sliced squid, I should say), baby octopus, shrimp, bean sprouts, and enoki mushrooms.  Underneath all the seafood was udon and Korean rice cakes swimming in a flavorful kimchi-based broth.  Tasty.

As if that weren’t enough, our waitress comes back to our table after we had been eating for a few minutes to offer some . . . additions . . . to our already-very-full pot.  The additions?  Octopus.  Two of them.  At first, I was puzzled why a restaurant would choose to freeze octopus into these flimsy aluminum pots for service, and I was even more puzzled as to why no one had the forethought to thaw them so that the waitress wouldn’t have to try to pry frozen blocks of seafood out of a pan that barely fit them.

Then, I realized (as I watched the faces of everyone around me grimace) that the octopus wasn’t frozen at all.  They were still alive.  And the effort our waitress was exuding in removing these critters from the pot wasn’t because they were frozen to the container, but because the suction cups on each of the tentacles had grabbed onto the sides of the vessel, and were struggling to keep the octopi firmly inside, where it was apparently safe.

This was a futile effort, whether or not the poor octopods knew it or not (probably not, since octopi be some duuuumb aminals), since our waitress (who was of diminutive size, I assure you) fairly easily tore them away and tossed them into our pan of boiling hot seafood-kimchi-noodle love.

creepy

crawly

and trying to get away

If the thought of watching a creature slowly die before your eyes just minutes before you will be eating it disturbs you, I strongly suggest you leave the table for a few minutes before returning and devouring everything in sight.  Go to the bathroom or something.  Go wash your hands.  Again.  Take a walk around the block.  If you smoke, chew a piece of gum (smoking kills).

Do I have a problem with eating an octopus that I watched die just several minutes earlier?  The apparent answer is “no,” since I ate half of one of the octopi almost immediately.  In reality, and in restrospect, I do wish that the octopus had died more quickly.  Being boiled alive doesn’t seem like a pleasant way to die at all.  The only difference between watching this cephalopod boil to death and boiling a lobster or crab is that the latter two are usually done inside a covered pot.  Here, the writhing and squirming is quite visible for all to see (including the neighbors to my right, who were visibly disturbed by our strange delicacy).

On the other hand, this place forces you to look your food in the eye (literally), which I appreciate, since the food we get at the grocery store comes so nicely and conveniently packaged and pre-butchered.  Beef does not look like a cow.  Pork does not look like a pig.  Even chickens don’t really look like chickens, since there are no feathers.  I think we’ve gotten too comfortable with our convenient, carnivorous diets.  To me, if I can’t eat something that I watched die, but have no problems with eating meat from a much larger, much more intelligent animal which died to feed me, I’d be a hypocrite.  I could elaborate, but maybe I’ll save this for another post?

That being said, the octopus was delicious.  It got tough after a few minutes, which was as expected, but we allowed it to simmer for a while longer, and the flesh became tender again.

Charlie

Charlie Park, the owner of the establishment, came around to greet us and to schmooze with the other patrons, and asked us what we thought of the food so far.  The octopus, apparently, was a delicacy that he had specially ordered from the waters around Korea.  “You eat this, and you’ll know what ‘smooth’ tastes like!” he exclaimed, as he cut up the tentacles into bite sized pieces for us.  We were eating something special.

cutting up the octopus

Rice

After we finished all the shellfish and tossed the shells into the trash buckets that were provided for us, our waitress brought out rice to cook with the remaining broth and leftover bits of seafood and vegetation.  This way, nothing was wasted, and all the fantastic, flavorful broth was used up and eaten — just the way I like it.

Cucumber juice

In lieu of a more familiar dessert, we were given cups of cucumber juice — pureed and strained cucumber, very mildly sweetened.  In Asian cuisine, you must have balance.  So, after having had a lot of spicy seafood, something light and cooling was required to balance out the meal.  What better way to end a meal?

Summary: This place serves really good, fresh seafood.  The complimentary appetizer (eggs, sunny side up) is apparently DIY, so serve it before it overcooks.  The “San-Nak-Ji-Chul-Pan” is for at least 4 people and costs $79.99, though 6 people could probably make a very good meal out of it and still be full.  If you have a problem with watching living sea creatures (octopus, obviously) writhe in agony as they boil to death before your eyes, order something else.  There is also a smaller version for 2 people for about half the price.

Restaurant Sik Gaek, 161-29 Crocheron Avenue, Flushing, NY 11358.

Phone: (718.321.7770)

Owner: Charlie Park

Chef: Son

Advertisements

3 Responses to “Mmmm. . . . Live Octopus . . .”

  1. […] (I AM supposed to be a “restaurantourist,” after all). Just last week, I went to this new Korean BBQ place that had LIVE OCTOPUS! […]

  2. Are you actually claiming to watch your food die is a better way to eat? I have no problem seeing a cow slaughtered quickly and humanely, but to slowly boil a live cow where I would have enough time to go to the bathroom to avoid the squirming? Slowly simmering to death is not a humane treatment for anything. Lobsters die almost immediately when thrown into a boiling pot (www.chilipaper.com/FWharf/Lobster/Lobster_FAQ/lobster_faq.htm) Respect what you eat by treating it respectfully.

    • restaurantouring Says:

      Hi Emma,

      To answer your question: Yes, I am. I think so, anyway. And I couldn’t agree more with your last sentence.

      – Conway

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: