BBQ Village, in Flushing, Queens, touts its all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue with marinated meats cooked table-side. But its extensive Banchan buffet, which features more than 60 hot and cold side dishes — from house-made kimchis to traditional soups, is also worth a visit.
In Korean homes and restaurants, Banchan are the salty, tangy or spicy side dishes served alongside a main meal to add an extra flavor kick. Hee Eun Kim, BBQ Village’s owner, staffs her kitchen with 10 cooks — among them, a ban chan specialist, a kimchi specialist and a meat specialist — to keep the buffet stocked with authentic, fresh dishes.
The kalbi soup (short ribs slowly simmered with Korean radish, onion, bean sprouts and scallions) was one of the standouts of the buffet. The flavor was distinctly savory, mild and soothing.
The buffet’s other soup, gook soo (soy sauce simmered with sesame oil, dried anchovies, onion, radish and tashima — a thick sea vegetable — and eaten with thin rice noodles), was a blend of salty, nutty and ocean flavors, with sweet undertones. It perfectly complemented the buffet’s spicier dishes.
Among the half dozen house-made kimchis (seasoned and fermented vegetables), we enjoyed the surprisingly sweet kimchi salad (cabbage seasoned with the usual kimchi spices but not fermented) and the crunchy, cubedmoo kimchi (radish), which was very tangy but only mildly spicy, despite its deep red color.
The spicy mool kimchi, bite-size pieces of American cabbage and scallions floating in red chili-tinged water, was salty and refreshing — fermented to the point of fizziness — but only mildly spicy.
Our hands-down favorite was the bak kimchi, “white” cabbage kimchi that omits the red chili paste that usually gives kimchi its spicy kick. It was intensely gingery and tangy without being too sour.
In contrast to the spicy, tangy kimchis, the julienned scallion salad was fresh and crunchy with a subtly sweet flavor. The kongnamul (soybean sprouts tossed with chopped scallions) was also mild — flavored only with sweet, nutty sesame oil. The jjang ahi (marinated radish and Korean green peppers) nicely balanced the salty, sweet and tangy flavors of its soy sauce, vinegar and sugar marinade.
Unfortunately, the vegetarian kimbap (Korean sushi rolls) was nothing special — on par with the offerings in any Korean deli. The pa jun (panfried rice-flour pancakes studded with green peppers and scallions) and jap chae (thin, clear potato noodles and vegetables stir-fried in sesame oil) were also disappointing — bland and excessively oily.
The rolls of Korean cabbage were skillfully steamed and still crunchy but almost flavorless. To be fair, though, they usually are not eaten alone but rather are paired with marinated and barbecued meats.
Those who are lucky enough to have access to good, homemade ban chan may scoff at the notion of a meal composed entirely of such side dishes. But for the rest of us, an all-you-can-eat buffet devoted to these inventive small plates is worth a visit — if only to explore a wider variety of ban chan than the predictable standards typically served in New York’s Korean restaurants.
— Anne Noyes Saini, City Spoonful