When it comes to dining out I’m not one for the communal table, I prefer to dine in small groups, or alone an eating army of one if you will. And as far as eating clubs go I take the Groucho Marx approach. That said I make an exception for The Gastronauts. The club for adventurous eaters was started by Curtiss Calleo and Ben Pauker over a Malaysian meal seven years ago and the ranks have swelled to 1,300 folks eager to try everything from goat’s eyes to horse meat. As I mentioned I have no need to be in a club to be an adventurous eater. An affinity for the nasty, squirmy, and often spicy bits is an integral part of my genetic makeup. And it doesn’t get any squirmier and spicier than the seafood feast some 50 Gastronauts gathered at Sik Gaek in Woodside on Tuesday night to enjoy. That’s because one of the eight courses was san nakji, or live octopus.
For whatever reason a meal at the soju-drenched Sik Gaek always begins with eggs cooked over a table top grill. This was followed by a grilled mackerel whose skin was so crisp it tasted like it had begun to confit in its own Omega-3 rich fat. Then came the live octopus. Truth be told it was some of the sleepiest live octopus I have ever encountered.
Octopus and lobster, both still very much alive, were the centerpiece of the next course, a Korean bouillabaisse of sorts. Clams, abalone, mussels, baby octopi, prawns,shrimp, calamari, and plenty of veggies bubbled away in a spicy broth. The steam that billowed forth was like spicy seafood aromatherapy. And the broth was quite simply one of the best seafood soups I have ever had. Once the lobster was cooked our waiter came over and cracked it open, and we all greedily dredged the pan for the precious flesh.
Just a bit of broth along with some sprouts remained in the bottom of pan as we waited for the next course, beef intestine stir fry. But first fried rice, or really more of a Korean paella. A bowl of white rice topped with roe, seaweed, and thinly sliced octopus was dumped into the sizzling hot pan and mixed with the remaining juices.
The rice was then flattened against the pan to get a nice crust on the bottom. The end was result was truly amazing. The folks at the next table gleefully topped theirs with shredded mozzarella. Thankfully I was amongst purists at my table. The cheese version was just weird. Next came a beef intestine stir fry that was good, but not great.
Next came a truly amazing dish of offal. A mountain of spicy chicken feet strewn with green onions and sesame seeds that I simply could not stop eating. They were braised to a wobbly melting texture in a spicy sauce and then slightly charred rendered smokey as well as fiery. Did I mention that they were the best chicken feet I have ever eaten? Calleo said they were his favorite dish of the night.
In lieu of dessert the meal ended with platters of raw clams. The price for this all you can drink Korean blowout was $70, not a bad deal at all. When I got home I visited Sik Gaek’s home on the web where I clicked on Sik Gaek story. It was in Korean, but through the wonders of Google, I have translated it for you:
Mother of forever unchanging love and is ready to put
The top priority for a beginner and good food
To satisfy customers with the best service, and eager to pursue
We will keep striving to dwitsim linen.
Many thanks to fellow Gastronaut Chad Lavimonière for the use of his photos.
Sik Gaek 49-11 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, 718-205-4555