Dining Out East Seafood: Korean fare so fresh it’s not even dead!
It’s not usual to get an invitation to play tonsil hockey with tentacles. Surprisingly, One arrived at the fourth anniversary of the Gastronanuts, a club for adventurous eaters online. Live octopus and lobster were being featured in the Korean Banquet at East Seafood Restaurant in Flushing. We rushed with the uprising without hesitation.
The website of Gastronauts says, “We explore the amazing variety of worldwide cuisines in this great city. With like-minded friends, we love to taste the weird stuff in small prints at the bottom of the menu that other men eat very often in Manila, Lagos, Bangkok, or Lima — items you’d never bother ordering alone.
We customize traditional-made menus of the rare at local restaurants, secret spots, potluck dinners, and the occasional special event, accompanied by lots and lots of drinking.”
The crime scene, East Seafood Restaurant, appeared as a Korean high school canteen that had been taken up by about half a century of Gen-Xers. To one side, the brightly lit basement room seemed filled with rows of long tables in mess-halls with fish tanks and a sushi station. Gastro-alumni greeted each other extravagantly, consulting excitedly over the feats of gustatory about to be performed.
Very different from the bad surroundings, each table was laid with beautifully arranged platters of sushi rolls and some sesame-dressed Korean salad. This was only the start of an unexpected procession of dishes.
It started steadily. First, a sizzling platter of garlic-grilled shrimp and some spicy mussels with a scoop of mashed pumpkin appeared. In instant succession, the mildly sweetened udon noodles arrived with vegetables and dull bowls of jook, the rice gruel beloved by Korean people.
The table tore into a whole fried crispy fish of unknown species and slurped down fresh raw oysters. Resulting platters of gigantic tempura shrimp and peculiar beef and pork burgers kept the momentum. All the while, Huge amounts of Korean beer and soju (a Korean vodka-like spirit) flowed.
Waiting eagerly for the main event, there arrived some smartly picked kimchi (pickled and spicy veggies) being next followed with a range of sashimi, along with sea squirt, cucumber, urchin and abalone, summed up together with salmon and tuna.
Extremely iodine bitter squirt was least appreciated in the feast. But the patrons say that is the qualities of the creature for which it is appreciated, similar tasting to clove and giving a sensation of numbness to the mouth. The uni (sea urchin), fresh from the tank, was like the pâté of the sea.
In a seeming nod to American cuisine, whole, steamed, sweet-fleshed lobsters arrived to make an upcoming, supported by a baked potato with garlic-laced drawn butter. This may be regarded as a delighting foreign dish by East Seafood regulars, but we were much familiar with it.
Finally, the stir in the air predicted that the critter feature was about to begin. Galaxies of digital-camera flashes erupted while the live octopi were being lifted out of their tanks. The creatures were brought to the tables twisting and turning their tentacles in protest. At tableside, the servers snipped off the tentacles onto platters, where they continued with their curves.
Diners dug in with their chopsticks, having to fight and pry the little pieces, which tried to attract themselves onto the platter. With some fear and nervousness, we sampled a section.
The taste was a slightly salty, more or less generic, plain seafood flavor. The texture was very much chewy. The big draw was the feeling of something moving around the whole in your mouth without the help of your teeth and tongue.
We can’t say that we were eager to re-experience. We comforted our conscience by remembering that octopus isn’t a vertebrate.
The octopus was followed, rather disappointingly, by a live lobster. The flailing critters were brought to the table to have their tails cut off and the meat portioned while their unlucky front ends exercised their outers. The front ends were then taken away from the table to be steamed.
Unlike the octopus, the raw tail meat was completely stationary. The only sushi is extremely fresh. It felt somewhat like cold, wet, soft lobster meat. Having the same flavor, just a different texture than steamed.
For it is customary in many Asian cultures, the banquet ended with a soup — an appealing fish chowder as provided here. The evening approached nearer, more like a crowd spreading at a sporting event than a meal completing.
With its live tanks, East Seafood Restaurant provides some of the extremely fresh sushi, fish and seafood you’re likely to get. If things twitching around in your mouth don’t appeal to you, you can stick to their more regular offerings, and possibly enjoy (or not) the substitute thrill of others tearing into tentacles.