Like many pubs, Sik Gaek in Flushing's Korean quarter is less about food and more about drink and good times. But hounds say you can always find something tasty to eat there, even if you're cold sober. In fact, some of the best dishes reward those who can keep their heads off the table through dinner.
The seafood hot pot, for example, is just fine when it comes to the table, says Lau—a gigantic vessel of light, spicy broth, loaded with lobster, clams, abalone, octopus, squid, oysters, shrimp, and more. (There's so much in there that some of it will wind up overcooked unless you attack it en masse.) But even better than this one-pot seafood festival is the afterparty. The leavings become the base for superb fried rice, tossed with sesame oil and dried seaweed, which Lau finds "perhaps even more tasty than the actual hot pot." A similar alchemy transforms the broth left over from steamed shellfish, which is somewhat bland as served, into deeply flavorful noodles, steeped in ocean flavors.
For those seeking quicker gratification, there's san nakji (raw octopus), killed moments before it's served. This signature dish earned Sik Gaek a media moment with Anthony Bourdain, thanks in part to the telegenic spectacle of octopus, sliced up but still squirming, seemingly bent on escaping the platter where it's been laid out and strewn with chiles and raw garlic. It's faultlessly fresh, naturally, and delicious when dipped in gochujang (chile paste) or sesame oil with salt and pepper. "You do have to chew it," Lau advises, "so it doesn’t stick to the side of your mouth since it is still moving. (I can see about 80%+ of people reading this cringing and vowing never to order this)."
An easier sell for the squeamish might be budae jjigae, the kitchen-sink stew of sausage, Spam, ramen noodles, and other odds and ends in spicy red broth. Beloved by Korean drinkers, it's "a world-class gut wrencher," says Polecat, if not exactly world-class dining. But, he adds, "the later it is, and the drunker you are, the better it will taste." Unlike most other Korean watering holes—like the hound-endorsed bar and seafood grill Han Shin Pocha—Sik Gaek draws some family trade amid the crowds of young imbibers. "My kid digs the octopus tank and the street signs/traffic lights as much as he does the seafood," Polecat says.
Sik Gaek [Flushing]
161-29 Crocheron Avenue (near 162nd Street), Flushing, Queens