The Seoul of Jersey

9 Nov

The following trip to New Jersey for Korean food was our first expedition outside of New York City. Gerry, who lives in the suburbs, has been the boldest of us all in finding places beyond New York, often to the major chagrin of the others, myself included. But after our trip to Masil House, no one was complaining. Here is what we experienced in the Korean enclave of Fort Lee.

Masil House
400 Main Street
Fort Lee, New Jersey


Gerry was bold and brave in his choice for our most recent food adventure. Not only did he gamble by summoning us across the Hudson River to the shores of Fort Lee, New Jersey, he also chose a place that we discovered upon our arrival, had velvet-covered menus. More used to grease-smeared paper menus, the velvet-covered menus immediately sent up warning signs.  But his was no brash act by someone irresponsibly leading the group astray. No, Gerry deliberated long on the subject taking his assignment extremely seriously. He even committed a first in our year-long gatherings. He, as Rick aptly put it, “called an audible,” switching the destination almost at the last moment from a tofu-laden, seemingly all-vegetarian Korean restaurant  to another Korean restaurant, this one with a barbecue grill in the middle of our table. The barbecue brought with it the promise of an abundance of meats and, though we have nothing against tofu and all the health-benefits it contains, Gerry’s audible was quietly endorsed by all.



While we waited for Rick’s arrival, we sipped barley tea and studied the thick menus. Gerry suggested we skip the appetizers and stay for the most part with the entrees; that as part of the Korean meal, many side dishes are included with the entrees. After making a few suggestions of our own, we turned over the ordering to Gerry. This was his show. The only exception came from Eugene who insisted we include an order of the stewed baby chicken with ginseng. Eugene’s insistence was based on the claim that we all needed some of the attributes that supposedly are contained in the fabled ancient Asian root.  “Speak for yourself,” Zio barked back to Eugene. And really, where was Eugene when he had the opportunity for “Johnny to get up and stand up” by trying some of the Jamaican Irish Moss drink and some of the other  “health” tonics that were available at Toyamadel, our last get together?

As soon as Gerry completed the order with the patient waiter, the side dishes he had told us about began arriving; aromatic and spicy kimchi, salted anchovies, sugared seaweed, pickled turnips, sesame-seeded soy sauce, vinegar peppers, and other items unidentifiable to me. We began picking at  the condiments as the waiter prepared the barbecue. It was a cold night in New Jersey and the extra warmth from the barbecue as well as from the spicy food was welcome.

Once the coals and grate were hot, pieces of marinated beef short ribs, Bul Gol Bi, removed from the rib were put on the grill. While the beef cooked, we tasted the ginseng chicken, a pancake filled with assorted seafood including shrimp and squid, and a very spicy stew of octopus and noodles. All were flavorful and immense in portion, but it was the barbecue that was the highlight. Like a taco, we wrapped the cooked meat in a lettuce leaf stuffed with condiments such as raw garlic, hot pepper, a garlicky bean paste, and whatever else you wanted to add and ate lustily. Along with the two orders of short ribs, there was one order of sliced marinated pork with peppers and onions.



As we have been trained to do, we devoured just about everything on the crowded table with only a few small overly-charred pieces of meat remaining on the grill.  It didn’t take long for all the fragrant accompaniments; garlic, cabbage, salted, cured fish, and spices to begin oozing from our pores.  And at the time, sated and satisfied, none of us really cared how truly “aromatic” our Korean feast had made us.

Dessert, apparently, was not an option. We were, however, brought complimentary slices of orange. The oranges had a cleansing effect—a clearing of the palette from the strong redolent assault we had just experienced. The bill came and adding in a very generous tip due to the fact that actual cooking was done by the waiters at our table, it came to $20 each–exactly our prescribed limit.  As it was coming over, crossing the river via the George Washington Bridge back to New York, the traffic was light. Gerry’s Jersey gamble was a success.

I haven’t been back to Fort Lee for Korean food or any other reason since that night in early 2003. Gerry’s success in getting us out of our comfortable New York City environs on this night apparently led him to take even more gambles, with, in many cases, much more mixed results. You will read of them as these adventures continue.

One Response to “The Seoul of Jersey”

  1. James Lax November 11, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Another Great Read… Some 37 years ago, Donny Sargent spoke often of his unique dining experiences in Korea while defending our great Nation… In honor of Veterans Day, may Donny Sargent enjoy a complimentary dinner in Fort Lee as a gesture of our appreciation… Bon Apetit Don !

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