I'm pleased to report the discovery of a new Korean restaurant in East Hartford: Goong Asian Restaurant. Long, long ago, my wife and I spent a year in Seoul, where we learned to love Korean cuisine, so finding Goong, which had its Grand Opening Friday night, was a matter of no small joy to us. Finding it, though, was not at all difficult: The new restaurant is in the same Silver Lane location that formerly housed Asiana, Seoul-Tokyo, and (IIRC) several other Korean eateries over the last decade. While Ichiban on Farmington Ave. has a strong Korean selection in addition to its Japanese menu, and Min Ghung Asian Bistro in Glastonbury offers a Korean-leaning array of Asian fusion choices, 798 Silver Lane has for years been our go-to address for straight-ahead Korean dining like we remembered it from Seoul.
I'm delighted to say that, on first visit, Goong has its most recent predecessors beat by a good margin. On Saturday evening the main dining room was packed, almost exclusively with Korean customers (I always take that as a good sign), and the several private rooms along the side seemed to be busy as well. The small side dishes served to start the meal (called panch'an, or paek pahn), especially the kimchi and a steamed egg dish, were fresh and delicious, as were the sushi rolls (spicy salmon and crunch spicy tuna) we shared as an appetizer.
While I look forward to exploring the menu in depth (sadly, there doesn't seem to be a website or online menu I could link to), for main courses on our first visit we chose old favorites: dol-sot bibimbap (rice, vegetables, and beef, served with egg and pepper paste in a hot stone bowl), jeyook bokkum (spicy pork stir fry with onions and green chiles), and the classic Korean grilled beef dish, bulgogi. Both the beef and pork dishes were tender and flavorful, featuring better quality meat than is sometimes used in these highly seasoned dishes. Stone-pot bibimbap is almost always a delight, and Goong's version is no exception: The hot bowl creates a tasty layer of crisp rice that adds texture to the dish, and the heat cooks the egg that traditionally tops the bowl when the contents are stirred, making for a hearty and deeply satisfying dish.
Service at Goong was excellent, especially considering we were there on only its second day of operation. Because it is so new, Goong does not yet have a liquor license, so no OB beer for me... but other than that, between the Korean-language Asian Games coverage showing on the TVs, the pop music leaking from the private rooms, and the happy Korean families all around, I could easily have imagined myself back in Seoul. I can't wait to go back.