There have been at least two other Korean restaurants on the site where Goong now operates in East Hartford. Lisa and I have returned to the spot again and again over the years, usually as the places fold and re-open under new ownership with slightly re-imagined menus. Goong is the best one by far. It's among the best Korean restaurants in the region, which, in some ways isn't saying so much, since there really aren't that many Korean restaurants around here. But then again, the ones that there are are very good, so it's noteworthy for fans of Korean food. I'm convinced that Korean food is about to make a big leap forward in terms of Americans' culinary consciousness, but I've been saying the same thing for years about Moroccan and Peruvian cuisine, so I'm no gastronomic soothsayer.
If you like Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indian or Vietnamese, you're bound to find something to love at a good Korean restaurant. The use of spicy hot peppers, sweet sauces using pear juice, acidic splashes of vinegar, the earthy notes of sesame seeds and scallions, thick and potent pastes using fermented soybeans, and mouth-awakening sour flavors of pickled cabbage make Korean cuisine intensely dynamic.
You can find fairly exotic food at Goong, dishes like tripe, beef bone soup, pork belly wrapped in pickled cabbage, and pig's foot, but there's also plenty of fare that would be at home at the Chinese take-out place from around the way. There are comforting noodle dishes, hearty bulgoghi (Korean barbecue), and the popular stew-like bibim-bab rice dishes served in stone pots.
But if you're looking for something to rave about, start with KhanPoongGhi, Goong's Korean fried chicken. This is somewhere between raging hot boneless buffalo wings, General Tso's chicken and tempura. The chicken is fried in a light and fluffy batter, then soaked in a sticky sweet sauce whose sweetness is almost completely obliterated by a crazy blast of vinegar and pepper. There are scallions and sesame seeds adding to the flavor. This is the kind of dish that people get carried away about.
Lisa and I were overwhelmed with the munificence of Goong's lunch specials, which mostly range from $8 to $11. These come with spread of salty little starters (pan chan), including flavorful kimchi, an eggy custardy thing that had texture similar to tofu, bright and crisp and super-salty daikon pickles, seasoned mung bean sprouts and noodles, and some broccoli sitting in a pool of chili paste.
Goong does catering, and the restaurant will soon expand into an adjacent space, where they'll serve banquets and larger groups. I'm hoping Goong has success at this spot and puts an end to the tradition of rotating restaurants at that address.