Park Sanbal Bab’s sole dish, long simmered beef and cabbage soup.
Spring’s just about a week away, but winter’s not quite done with New York City. The blustery weather provided a perfect reason to hit up Park Sanbal Babs, a homey Korean restaurant specializing in just one dish—a beef and cabbage soup called gukbap—with my pal Jonathan Forgash. He’s a chef by trade turned community activist and restaurant advocate, and a big fan of steaming bowls of comforting stews and such, so I knew he’d be down for a mission to Murray Hill in deep Flushing.
I’d heard about it this highly specialized restaurant from some Facebook food nerds a few weeks ago. “There’s only one choice to make, spicy or not,” one of them said. I treated myself to an Uber and and was cheered to see Google indicated Park Sanbal Babs was “less busy than usual.” As soon as I saw it I recognized it from years of exploring the vast K-tropolis that starts on Union Street and Northern Boulevard and runs practically all the way to Great Neck. I poked my head inside. Every table was occupied and there were about four people waiting in the small space by the door. “I wonder what Google thinks really busy looks like?” I mused to myself as I walked outside to explore the neighborhood.
“This smells almost like my grandmother’s house,” Jonathan said while we waited. “How many? You want spicy or non spicy?” a Korean lady asked us. “Spicy,” we both responded. Moments after Jonathan said “This doesn’t seem like the type of place that encourages lollygagging,” we were seated. “I’ve passed this place hundreds of times, and I’ve always been curious,” I said as the waitress placed our bubbling minicauldrons on the table.
Two bowls of rice, sliced omelette, a stack of dried seaweed, hot green peppers with miso, and some excellent radish kimchi accompanied our soups. It’s almost as if the banchan selection was limited so as not to take away from the main event, a dish that cooks for four hours.I’d expected the soup to be incendiary, but was surprised when it wasn’t. It was, however, perfect for a cold day. A few spoonfuls in, we noticed the endearing soundtrack of Parksanbal Babs. It consists of the two Spanish speaking waitresses constantly calling out “Excuse me,” as they hustle in and out of the kitchen bearing boiling bowls of soup.
On the wall next to us was a sign in Korean that I was sure said something about the food. Turns out I was wrong, it’s more about Parksanbal’s hospitality. A friend of mine translated it thus: “First time guest is welcome because it’s the first time. Second time guest is welcome because it’s a known face. Third time guest is welcome because they are a regular. Fourth time guest is welcome because they are a family.”
I’ve long held the theory that since so many Koreans live and eat in Northeastern Queens often the restaurants there don’t have encyclopedic menus but are rather specialists. Parksanbal though is a specialist among specialists. If this weather keeps up I’ll be back sooner rather than later for another dose of its $15.99 medicine.
Park Sanbal Babs, 41-10 162nd St., Murray Hill, (718) 840-8467