Sol Hyang Lee – Amazing Korean-Chinese BBQ Skewers at One of the Most Unique Restaurants in Flushing
**For full post and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2011/08/sol-h...
Sol Hyang Lee is one of the many northeast Chinese restaurants that have been popping up in Flushing. These restaurants are either run by Chinese who live near the border of Korea and can speak Korean or by ethnic Koreans who live in China and can speak both languages as well. Sol Hyang Lee is run by the later. Sol Hyang Lee’s specialty is BBQ skewers which you cook at yourself. My friend’s family (who is Korean) eats here fairly regularly and she was the one who told me about this place.
The restaurant is a longer narrow restaurant that is lined with light wooden booths with white walls that also have exposed brick. The restaurant looks much more like a Korean restaurant than a Chinese restaurant. Each booth has a metal box in the middle of the table where they put the hot wood charcoal that you use to grill the skewers.
The customer mix was probably half Chinese and half Korean. I’m not sure whether the staff speaks English or not, but the menu is fully translated into English, so pointing should be no problem in case they don’t speak English. They do speak fluent Mandarin and Korean; it’s pretty cool to watch them go back and forth between languages depending on which customers they are speaking to. They seemed to be pretty nice, but my friend spoke with them in Korean, so I had no idea what was being said.
Just like a normal Korean restaurant they served ban chan (small dishes) at the beginning of the meal, which were similar to normal Korean ban chan, but you could tell there were some differences in the way they spiced them.
- Pickled Cabbage and Daikon Radish: This was pickled cabbage and daikon radish in a very light slightly sweet and tangy soy sauce. It was pretty good. 7.5/10
- Bean Sprouts: This was a typical Korean preparation of bean sprouts with green onions and sliced carrots in sesame oil. The bean sprouts tasted fresh and the sesame oil was nice. 7.75/10
- Liver: This was an interesting ban chan as I’ve never had it before. It was sliced liver with celery in a slightly spicy and salty sauce. The liver was cooked nicely and was not metallic tasting or weird tasting at all as badly prepared liver can be. In fact it wasn’t liver-y tasting whatsoever. I thought it was pretty decent. 7.25/10
- Sweet Pickled Radish Strips: This was another typical Korean preparation of sliced pickled radish strips in a sweet chili sauce. Although typical in flavoring it was done well. 7.75/10
- Cucumber Kimchi: This was just a normal cucumber kimchi, however I don’t think they normally give it as a ban chan I believe it needs to ordered separately. They gave it to us gratis because the girl had forgotten our beer and apologized and then brought this out to us to make up for it. As it turned out it was excellent. The cucumbers were crispy and not mushy, the seasoning was nicely spicy and sweet, but not too sweet. 8/10
- Cumin Spice: They give you a bowl of slightly spicy cumin powder to dip your skewers in. It’s really delicious and I was basically dousing all my skewers in it. 8.5/10
- Beef Skewer: The beef was delicious, it was tender and had a good clean flavor and was kicked up a notch with the cumin spice. 8/10
- Lamb Chunk Skewer: My friend recommended this one and I’m glad she did. This was definitely my favorite skewer. It was slightly fatty chunks of lamb that were already marinated in a slightly sweet soy sauce. The meat was very tender and was melt in your mouth good. The flavoring of the sauce was really good, so you didn’t need any cumin or other seasonings. It wasn’t gamey at all and even my girlfriend who doesn’t like lamb thought it was delicious. 8.5/10
- Pork Heart: This was slices of pork heart. Heart is a muscle with basically no fat, so it has a firm texture, but it’s also a pretty clean tasting meat. The version here was good, a little chewy and salty and great with cumin. 7.75/10
- Chicken Gizzard: Chicken gizzard is very Korean; it is pretty common in Korea probably more so than any other place I’ve ever been to, so it was no surprise that it was on the menu. It’s similar to heart in texture and taste. The version here was quite good. 7.75/10
- Squid: This was just squid with a little chili oil on it. I wasn’t sure if BBQ’ing squid would make it too chewy, but as it turned the squid was actually quite tender. I was pleasantly surprised by this. 8/10
- Sauteed Shredded Pork in Sweet Bean Sauce (Jing Jiang Rou Si 京酱肉丝): This is a typical northern Chinese dish consisting of shredded pork in a slightly sweet bean sauce that is served with shredded leek, sliced cucumber, cilantro and tofu wrappers. You then take the meat put it in the wrapper with the condiments and eat it as a wrap. I have a feeling that this dish might be the basis for the “moo shu pork” you see at Americanized Chinese take-out places. I thought it was pretty good, the pork was tender and the sauce was reasonably good although I would’ve liked it slightly sweeter as it the sauce was fairly mild tasting. I liked the condiments a lot in particular the shredded leek. The tofu wrapper was decent, but a little plain. Personally, I’d prefer it in a mantou bun (steamed white bun), but overall it was a pretty decent dish. 7.5/10
- Quail with Chili: The waitress recommended this. It was quail in a sweet and spicy soy sauce with chilis. The meat was tender and the sauce was very delicious. It’s kind of like eating buffalo wings. Also, it tasted best when it was hot; it wasn’t as good once it got colder, so I’d recommend eating it when it first comes out. 8/10
- Neung Myun: We ordered this at the end of the meal because we wanted something cool and light to finish the meal. It looked quite a bit different than the regular Korean neung myun. It also tasted different to as it was sweeter, spicier and more tangy than the typical preparation. The noodles were decent, but not great. My girlfriend didn’t like it that much as she thought it was too sweet, but the rest of us thought it was decent although I’ve definitely had better bowls of neung myun. 6.75/10
Overall, this was one of the more exciting restaurants I’ve found in Flushing. Not only was it quite unique, but the food was very good. I highly recommend trying it out.
Also, my friend said that the place next door which is also is a Korean Chinese place has better dishes, but the BBQ skewers is why you come here as the restaurant next door isn’t a skewer restaurant. I’m looking forward to trying the place next door soon.
Sol Hyang Gee
136-73 41st Ave, Queens, NY 11355
FYI: there's another skewer joint as well, called Okinae, in Murray Hill, same vicinity as Mapo BBQ, Ham Ji Bak, Chinese House and Sarang Bang. Haven't tried it yet but am in that area often so I intend to. Parking is easier around there.
40-30 149th Pl, Queens, NY 11354
I recommend checking out the newer branch of this place one block over on Roosevelt, confusingly called Feng Mao 2, but with the same Chinese & Korean names as Sol Hyang Gee (the correct name of the old spot). I went last week, and the cooked food seems to be a bit better, the place is nicer looking, with a better seating arrangement, and they take cards. I saw some of the same waitstaff from Sol Hyang Gee over there when I went.
btw, can someone clear up for me what Feng Mao (丰茂) means colloquially? Its literal translation doesn't quite seem to cover the fact that there are Korean-esque bbq restaurants all over the place with this name.
Well, I wish I could tell you how it was, but I can't because we were refused a BBQ table.
Peter correctly noted that the new name is Sol Hyang Gee, which threw me because I was looking for Sol Hyang Lee and the red awning. They changed their name, and business must be good because they have a nice new awning. I double checked the address from the photos on Lauhound.
My wife and I went in and the waiter/owner/whoever he was asked us if we wanted BBQ. I said yes, for two. He sat us at one of the two woodtop tables without a BBQ pit. There are two of these woodtop tables, the other tables are stonetop with BBQ pits.
He brought one menu. Note to all restauranteurs: When two adults are seated, bring two menus.
I figured that they would bring over a portable BBQ, maybe with a metal bottom to protect the wood as you see in many Korean places. When he came by to take our order, I asked him if he was going to bring us a BBQ. He said no. I looked over at two tables, where the patrons were getting up to leave and I looked toward the back where I saw one free table. I asked if we could have a BBQ table. He said no.
We left without ordering.
I hate to think I was the victim of "you're not one of us" syndrome, which happens from time to time at some ethnic eateries. It happened to me at Grill Palace in Forest Hills.
I won't go back to either place. Maybe Feng Mao will be a bit more receptive to seating me at a BBQ table.
hmm geez that sucks, sorry that happened since i know you were excited about it
i wonder if it changed ownership? b/c the people who worked there before were really nice, in fact when we were there they got excited b/c my friend said at the end of the meal that i had a food blog and they were like yah tell people to come here
That's too bad. I wouldn't go back either if I were you. I'm also wondering if they changed ownership; when I went I had a similar experience to Lau.
Fortunately, there are restaurants other than Sol Hyang Gee that serve chuanr.
I wrote a mini review on one of them below. Basically the same stuff as Sol Hyang Gee/Feng Mao. The decor might be even less spartan, though.
35-14 Farrington St, Queens, NY 11354
I hate to say it but we had a very similar experience last month. We went in for a late (around 3:00) lunch. One large table in the front was occupied, but the restaurant was otherwise empty. We were seated at a non-BBQ table and given one menu for two people. We had assumed that we would be given a portable BBQ and didn't asked to be moved. We were too tired after fighting the crowds at the New World Mall! All of our skewers were cooked in the kitchen. They were delicious, and we loved the cumin spice mix. But there are too many wonderful places to eat in Flushing to return to a place where you are treated differently.
Before we get a witch hunt going, let me just say that I think it's probably a communication problem. If you go with two people they don't usually give you BBQ equipment and will instead cook the skewers in the kitchen. When I went to the new branch, Feng Mao 2, it was with a Yanbian person, and we ended up with all of our skewers being cooked in the kitchen.
They probably just couldn't explain it to you - some of the people working there have almost no English at all.
re: Peter Cuce
Good point, Peter.
Every time I've been one of these chuanr places I've been with a party of at least 4. My second time at Sol Hyang Gee we had them make the chuanr in the kitchen. Perhaps the staff thinks that parties of 2 aren't going to order enough skewers to go through the hassle of grilling tableside. For example, if you order one order of kalbi, they're going to make it in the kitchen instead of tableside.
Those skewers are fun to cook tableside, but there are also drawbacks. First, your clothes smell like charcoal, two, you have to pay attention to those skewers or else you're going to lose some. If you have fresh coals, they burn pretty quickly, especially when they're almost done. You have to turn them like every 15 seconds or they'll burn. I remember I had like 15 skewers on at a time and when the skewers were almost done my hands were basically flying all over the place flipping and keeping them from burning. Fun, but a PITA.
Thanks to, R.L mentioning this place on chowhound and lauhound, I came across this place..
The inside is not much to look at. There are a few booths on the first floor and there appears to be additional seating downstairs.
The three of us arrived last night around 830 pm.. The place was not super packed but, it began to fill up as the night progressed.
We were seated at a table that had a rectangular well cut into it. Here is where they placed charcoal and allowed you to cook the skewars.
There is a large menu but, besides getting a Korean Cold Buckwheat Noodle, we just stayed with sticks..
Our waiter spoke Korean and Chinese, there seems to be some Chinese Dishes but, for the most part, it had a lot of Korean touches. They also started the meal with banchan.
We ordered several different sticks, a couple bottles of Cass Beer, and some Souchu.
The meat was coming out on these little metal skewars.. we placed them over the fire and tended to them turn them every so often.. We then meat comes off the fire, you then are given a little mound of dry spice mix that you dip the meat into.. This gives it a great burst of flavor. there is little taste cumin and toasted sesame, and some peppers..
The waitstaff was super nice, I love that sort of primal dining where you and your friends sit around a fire and grill meat.. What is more basic and wonderful than that?
Our favorite dish of the night was unanimously the short rib.. Which is not what you would expect.. it was little pieces of bone that had some meet around it.. but, it was basically chewing on cartilage that had a little sweet meat around it.. We are several orders of this.. The basic lamb and the mutton are also must tries..
Thanks R.L for telling me about this place. We will be back for sure.
Sol Hyang Gee
136-73 41st Ave, Queens, NY 11355
Lau, thanks for your report. Checked it out and thought it was quite good and interesting. I had:
soy bean sprouts
scallion kimchi -- way too sour and pungent for my taste
radish kimchi -- my favorite as it was well balanced
seasoned boiled peanuts
Bummer that they didn't have the liver.
mutton -- probably my favorite; not sure if this is the same lamb thing you're mentioning; this skewer was 10 to an order
chicken gizzard -- not really my thing; ordered it because of somebody else
beef short rib -- already seasoned; kind of fatty compared to the short ribs you get at Korean BBQ restaurants; liked it
pork heart -- not my thing as it was a bit too chewy for my taste. but I don't think I'm a heart person in general as I've tried it many times and could never eat more than a couple of bites -- the only hearts I've ever liked were Yakitori Totto's chicken hearts because they are so tender and succulent
? -- looked like chicken or pork and was full of cartilage
I don't remember ordering the cartilagey thing -- think there might have been some miscommunication with the server as the ordering did not go very smoothly. Sounds similar to the sparerib mentioned below but was definitely some sort of white meat.
Cumin dip was very good -- I definitely think there's some MSG in it as I got that insatiable thirst afterward.
Kamja jun -- potato pancakes and not of the hashed brown variety; I liked it because my grandmother used to make it for me all the time when she visited me; potatoes are pureed and fried, resulting in a cake that's crispy on the outside and gummy and soft on the inside -- similar to the texture of mochi but not as glutinous; served with a soy-based dipping sauce.
They sent us a complimentary dish of spicy cold mung bean noodles with cucumbers and carrots. Good foil to all the heavy meat.
Too bad I don't head out to Flushing as much as I used to. Just too much of a pain these days to get there. Restaurants like this is what makes living in NYC very special.
Sol Hyang Gee
136-73 41st Ave, Queens, NY 11355
re: Miss Needle
glad you enjoyed it!
i dont think the mutton you had was the same as the lamb chunk, which i actually put down as "lamb chunk" b/c i believe thats what it was called on the menu. The lamb chunk is a little more expensive than the others and is like one or two skewers per order.
yah if you don't like heart you won't like gizzard either since they are all muscles and tend to be chewier b/c of that unless you do something special to them to make them softer (if you're ever in LA, write me a message and i'll tell you about the an amazing yakitori place that does heart in this unbelievable way)
interesting on the kamja jun, ill have to try next time.
btw sorry if uve had any issues with my blog recently, ive sort of fixed them, but im working on fixing them completely
Yeah, the mutton and lamb chunks are different -- especially when I reread your report. The mutton was not marinated.
Just to warn you, the gamja jun is a grease bomb. But it tastes good with the meat.
Ooh, would love to try out your LA yakitori place next time I'm there. I always thought I hated chicken hearts until I tried it at Totto. Shows that it's good to sometimes try things that you think you won't like because you'll be surprised once in a while.
re: Miss Needle
yah if u go again definitely try the lamb chunk, its very different than the other skewers. it sweetness of the sauce and fattiness of the meat are great together.
the gamja jun sounded like a grease bomb, but i like that kind of stuff
i think it alot of offal meats or muscular meats like heart the preparation is hugely important more so than most "regular" meats, so the skill of the chef is really showcased in alot of those dishes. at the yakitori place in LA, i didn't even tell anyone what the heart was when it got to the table b/c i knew people would go eww, they tried it and were like wow thats really good and then i told them it was heart and they were very surprised they liked it
I wanted to point out that the lamb chunk is marinated and cooked in the kitchen - I think they want to get it exactly right, since it's quite a bit more expensive than the other skewers. The meat is amazingly juicy, delicious and fatty. Loved it. The mutton is quite good too.
hit this place yesterday, as was meeting family who wanted a korean place near the subway and this was the only place I could think of in a pinch. (sidenote:if anyone can recommend a good korean near the subway, let me know. Looking for a place that does the basic staples well, specifically bibimbap.)
The food definitely seemed a little more northern Chinese than Korean to me, but I don't know that much about either cuisine. In any event, it was delicious and I am looking forward to going back. Our group had a lot of kids and some not very adventurous eaters, so we didn't try any crazy things. We had the beef, chicken, and lamb skewers, all of which I thought were very good. I loved the real coals for cooking, too. A nice touch. We also had the spicy sauteed tofu, which is like a meatless, mild version of mapo dofu—loved by the vegetarian at our table. Also the potato, eggplant, and pepper dish (is that called "three buddies" or something?), which was good, and the peking pork, which was fabulous. I'm grateful to Lau for printing the chinese characters for that dish, as I first ordered the shredded pork, thinking that was the dish and then showed the server Lau's chinese, and he explained that it was actually the peking pork. We also had the beef noodle soup. The noodles were nice and chewy but the soup was nothing special. Also an order of dumplings. Again, fine but have had much better elsewhere.
The cumin dipping powder that comes with the skewers is excellent. I was trying to deconstruct it so that I could maybe recreate it for skewers at home. I guessed at cumin, ground red chili, sesame seeds, salt (and perhaps msg) but does anyone know what the small black seeds in it are? nigella?
Also, first restaurant I've ever been in where the condiments on the table are salt, chili flakes, and whole cumin seeds. As someone who grew up eating cumin mainly in Indian food, these past few years exploring some of the different, cumin-loving chinese cuisines have been a revelation.
Though the servers speak limited English and communication was a little tough, everyone was friendly.
Anyway Lau, thanks for finding this place. It's why I love chowhound!
Sol Hyang Gee
136-73 41st Ave, Queens, NY 11355
glad you enjoyed!
its a mix of chinese and korean although id agree with you that its definitely more chinese and korean.
the potato, eggplant and pepper dish is a somewhat famous northern called di san xian 地三鲜. i haven't tried it there, but most northern places serve some version of it.
im a big fan of the cumin spice they give you, i was using it very liberally on all the meats.
Ate here last night. It reminds me longingly of late night BBQ restaurants that I used to hit when I was living in China. I thought the food served here has overwhelmingly more Chinese influence than Korean.
I thought the skewers were great; we ordered chicken, beef, pork sparerib, and lamb, my favorite being the lamb. The beef and sparerib were also good. The sparerib has a small piece of cartilage so it has a nice crunch to it. They put on a slightly sweet and salty sauce which the other skewers don't have. The sparerib was quite good, although very small. The chicken I can pass on. I also thought the spice mixture was great - not too overpowering of any one ingredient.. We also ordered the Peking pork with tofu skin, the la zi ji (deep fried boneless chicken with chilies), a liang pi dish, and some veggies. The chicken was quite good, nice subtle ma la flavor. At first thought the chicken looked a little overfried, but I think it's because they used either potato starch or tapioca starch to coat the chicken instead of flour. I thought the Peking pork was good also, just that the shreds are very small. I thought the tofu skin wrapper (which comes out very hot, btw) went great with this dish because it sort of cleanses the palate and you can taste each ingredient with each bite. I barely tried the liang pi dish since it was on the other side of the table, but the gals seem to like it.
Anyways, I seem to forget how salty these places can be. It is very authentic in that regard, as the BBQ places in China are extremely salty. We had 3 drinking last night and went through 4 pitchers quite easily. For the record, they serve Coors Light, Hofbrau (not sure which one), Heineken, Tsingtao in bottles and Bud on tap. Unfortunately they don't have Hofbrau on tap or else we would've been there for a long time. I'm not normally a Bud drinker but we went with the Bud since it was the only one on tap and it's only 10 bucks a pitcher. It's also BYOB - the table in back of us had a 1.75L bottle of call vodka they brought with them.
FWIW, we sat closer to the front of the restaurant, and I thought the bench seating fits 6 people quite comfortably, 8 in a pinch. This is definitely a place to kick back and relax.
Maybe this will be a new trend? A Chinese/Korean version of the biergarten?
ah nice that sounds like a good meal! yah ive eaten at places like this in china too when i was in sichuan and shanghai. ill def have to try some of the dishes you tried next time
its definitely a fun place to drink beer as the beer definitely goes pretty well with that type of food
Silverjay - birdsandtogs just answered your questions about seating