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Chinese food in Elmhurst, the way Koreans like it

So far my collection includes Latino Chinese food (El Presidente Restaurant, 95-49 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights), Indian Chinese food (Tangra Masala, 87-09 Grand Ave, Elmhurst), Kosher Chinese food (Cho-Sen Garden 64-43 108th Street, Forest Hills) and Guyanese Chinese food (Savannah, 173-04 Jamaica Ave., Jamaica).

I just added to my set, quite by accident. I went to Sam Won Gahk in Elmhurst under the impression it served Korean food. A Korean acquaintance said they made great "Korean Spaghetti." I assumed this was a traditional Korean dish. Not so. Or at least not in the traditional sense.

It took a little detective work to figure out that the dish referred to was "Noodles with Special Brown Peking Sauce," a dish introduced to Korea by northern Chinese refugees after World War II. The noodles are prepared fresh and brought in two bowls - one for the sauce, the other for the noodles. The waitress cuts the endlessly long noodles with scissors, you glob on the sauce and mix. The sauce contains tidbits of pork and vegetables, and is has an intense and unusual flavor with a bit of a bite. This is a unique and special dish you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Queens.

The décor at Sam Won Gahk is unpretentious to the max. It looks like a former Greek coffee shop with a scattered overlay of works of Korean calligraphy. Upon being seated, you are given a starter of kimchee and pickled yellow turnips, and are served tea in glass tumblers. Alongside the soy sauce and vinegar there is a sugar dispenser filled with powdered red pepper. Some (Koreans) like it hot!

The portions at Sam Won Gahk are more prodigious. The dumpling soup, which contained terrific shumai-style dumplings and a wide variety of vegetables, shrimp, meat and mushrooms in a flavorful greaseless broth would have satisfied two moderately hungry diners, but there were so many other dishes waiting to be tried.

Under "Cold Dishes" we sampled "Cold and Hot" combination. We were expecting a few little companion dishes, some hot, some cold. Guess again. We were served a large platter heaped with a stir fry of recognizable and unrecognizable vegetables, scrambled eggs and seafood surrounded by a ring of carefully arranged bunches of julienned raw vegetables. Hence the name "cold and hot" - the raw veggies were the cold. This dish is eaten by mixing the raw vegetables with the stir fry. What makes this dish special is the contrasting textures of the cooked and uncooked ingredients. Beware of some strange rubbery things in this dish if you're finicky about stuff like that. A fairly mild mustard sauce is offered on the side to kick up the flavor. This is a dish often shared by groups of Korean drinking buddies as an accompaniment to alcoholic beverages.

Mistakenly thinking it was the fabled Korean spaghetti, we previously tried Hot Mixed Vegetable & Pork with Starch Noodles. While the serving size was daunting, the amount of pork was minimal. The dominant flavor of this dish comes from a mixture or hot and sweet peppers and onions stir fried with the pork. The noodles are the transparent cellophane type. If you enjoy hotly spicy food, this a good bet. If not, you can also order this dish as "Mixed Vegetable and Pork with Starch Noodles" for a similar dish without the heat.

Non-Korean diners here always enjoy fried shrimp with garlic sauce, or for something spicy, mixed seafood with red pepper sauce.

The Bottom Line

An interesting and unique ethnic cuisine served up in gargantuan portions. The best strategy is to bring a bunch of friends with adventurous palates so you can sample a variety of dishes. The noodles with Brown Peking sauce are a must.

Sam Won Gahk

82-53 Broadway, Elmhurst

718-458-0700

Cuisine: Korean Chinese

Setting: Coffee shop with calligraphy

Service: Amiable and efficient with limited English skillls

Hours: L & D 7 days

Reservations: No

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: No

Noise level: Average

Handicap accessible: No, obstruction outside restroom would block wheelchair entry.

Reccommended Dishes:

All prices include sales tax:

Dumpling Soup...$8.50 (family style)

Noodles with Special Brown Peking Sauce...$7.55

Boiled Dumplings (8)...$6.45

Cold & Hot Combination...$18.50

Hot Mixed Vegetable w/Starch Noodles...$11.95

Fried Shrimp With Garlic Sauce...$15.20

Mixed Seafood with Red Pepper...$16.50

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