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A Taste of Heaven (and a little bit of hell) on Northern Boulevard

20 Feb


After last month’s “disaster” in Port Chester and as the designated Grand Poobah of our now 15-year-old food group,  I quickly signed into order a temporary ban on Mexican restaurants for our group. No more tacos. No more enchiladas. No more grand volcanoes until further notice. Despite a mini-protest by the sudden activist, Eugene, no one dared question my motives or intentions. Eugene soon fell into line and Mike from Yonkers, whose turn it was to choose our next destination stuck to the ban and chose a Korean restaurant in Flushing’s Koreatown called Joah. While we have had enough of guacamole for awhile, we were starved for bulgogi and bibimbap.


The Grand Poobah

I arrived early and had time for a beer, so I stumbled into a non-descript bar across the street from Joah. When I entered, the few heads in the bar turned to stare at me as if I were some sort of immigrant life form they had never seen before. There was a Korean couple at one end of the bar snuggled close to each other sharing cherry tomatoes and a bottle of Grey Goose and a lone older Korean man with three empty Coors’ Light bottles in front of him, two of the Korean female bartenders huddled around him lovingly. One of the bartenders reluctantly broke away to see what I wanted. I mentioned beer and she looked at me quizzically as if she didn’t understand what I said. And then she mimicked my words; her English almost non-existent. I dared not ask what type of beers were available and just went ahead and ordered a Heineken. She nodded and returned with a glass, a bottle of Heineken and a small dish of roasted peanuts. As I started in on the beer and the peanuts a loud wail ensued seemingly out of nowhere. I turned to see the man with the cherry tomatoes and Grey Goose bottle gripping a microphone. He was soulfully crooning into the microphone, the vodka fueling his passion as he sang along with the Korean pop tune. I made sure to applaud his performance politely when he finished and then, trying not to look too stressed, downed the beer as fast as I could and got out of there before I had to hear more karaoke, Korean or otherwise.

The quiet when I arrived at the sparsely populated Joah was appreciated. Zio waddled in a few minutes later and we sat and took a look at the menu which was a colorful notebook loaded with non-traditional Korean dishes. Where was the bulgogi? Where was the bibimbap? Instead there was page devoted to “hamburger steak,” including Turkish hamburger steak and hamburger steak and sausage. There was also a lengthy section of the menu on risottos and pastas; just what was expected in a Korean joint.

“You gonna get pasta, Eugene?” I asked him.

“No, I’m gonna get risotto,” he replied, surprising me as he ordered the “Gondre” seafood risotto in a tomato sauce.

“That’s what I was gonna order,” Mike from Yonkers whined.

“No one’s stopping you,” Eugene answered. And no one did. Both ordered the same risotto in a Korean restaurant.


Korean risotto

I quickly decided that the Korean version of Italian food might be problematic to an Italian food snob like me, so instead focused on something I had never seen before called “Eggs in Heaven OR Eggs in Hell.” The difference between heaven and hell in this case meant that the eggs were either prepared in a cheese cream sauce (heaven) or in a tomato broth (hell). Though the idea of hell always sounds edgier, more exciting, I opted for more mundane heaven; eggs in a Korean made tomato sauce just did not appeal to my half Italian sensibilities.


Eggs in heaven

Gerry wasted no time ordering the army stew, a soup of bacon, fish cake, sausage and noodles in the same, dark red tomato broth that coated Eugene and Mike from Yonkers’ risotto. “It’s a little sweet,” all of them, including Zio, whose spicy pork plate over rice was also red in color, intoned and I agreed after taking a bite of Mike from Yonkers’ risotto.

There was nothing sweet, however, about my eggs in heaven. “Make sure you mix it all up,” the waiter told me as he planted the very hot bowl in front of me. I did what he said, the eggs cooking in the hot cheese and cream sauce, all of it easy to scoop up with the saltine crackers and pieces of Italian bread that decorated the bowl. The bits of bacon in the eggs added much needed salt to the otherwise bland, yet somewhat comforting dish.


Though we came expecting Korean food normalcy, we experienced something much different. The results may not have been what we wanted, but the adventure most definitely was. In that regard, Mike from Yonkers’ pick of Joah was a big time winner.


161-16 Northern Blvd

Flushing, Queens

(Con)Fusion Files

18 Jan

Con Fusion Files

Life is difficult enough without having to decide whether to pair the bibimbap with a Cuban sandwich or go with the chicken salad BLT and the soft tofu soup. But what about the Philly cheesesteak, an inviting pasta, or a nutritious bowl of udon? Not only am I now confused, I’m getting a headache thinking about the eating possibilities here.

And the Answer is…

1 Oct

On Friday I presented these two images and challenged you to name the place where you would find them.

The first image was correctly identified as a pig’s snout. But beyond that, no one could identify the place where the pig snout and the delicious dish above could be found.

As I said in Friday’s post, there are sometimes hints in my words. They were in there, but really, not much help at all. The hint was in this sentence. “In what eating establishment(s) might you find the bizarre image above?” Now how would you know that the pig’s snout image was in, technically, two eating establishments?

This establishment where the pork cutlet above was prepared:

Which is part of this larger, grander establishment:

The food court (emporium) known as Food Gallery 32.

Where  international means, predominately Korean, with some Japanese and Chinese thrown in including the Red Mango frozen yogurt chain, Jin Jja Roo, for Korean noodle and rice dishes, O-de-Ppang for Japanese rice bowls, and,



Food Gallery 32
11 West 32nd Street.

Shared Secrets of Soft Tofu

31 Jan

So Kong Dong
130 Main Street
Ft. Lee, NJ

We learned after grilling Mike from Yonkers that his choice of So Kong Dong, a Korean “soft tofu” place in Fort Lee, New Jerseey was one he had frequented often. Not a risky discovery, but we had no restrictions that a choice had to be one that was virgin territory. But why would Mike from Yonkers be spending time in Fort Lee, New Jersey ?

“Taekwondo,” he blurted, as if that really meant anything to us. We knew he and Gerry are taekwondo students and masters of that Korean martial arts form. So that meant because of the taekwondo connection he obviously knew of the Korean restaurants in Fort Lee, New Jersey, of which there are many.

“My bank is here,” he admitted after being pressed further. Again, that could have led to many more questions such as why would Mike from Yonkers, New York be banking in Fort Lee, New Jersey? None of us, however, choose to continue our  inquisition; we were all too happy with the end result of his decision and that was really what mattered  most to us.

Anytime we have to go to New Jersey, usually at Gerry’s behest, we worry about traffic complications. But on this evening, Zio and I cruised effortlessly across the George Washington Bridge. We hit minor trouble when, thanks to the incoherent mumblings of the female  voice of my GPS, we headed in the opposite direction of Fort Lee on the Palisades Parkway. We quickly got back on track and again, what she was directing me to do and what the map was showing were not in sync.

“Make a U-turn ahead. Make a U-turn ahead,” she blabbered as if it were easy to make a U-turn on a winding, hilly road. Finally, we righted ourselves, shut the bitch up by turning off the useless device, and found So Kong Dong, the pillars of the George Washington Bridge visible from the restaurant’s small parking lot.

The view from the parking lot.

I pulled into a municipal parking lot across Main Street from the restaurant just as Gerry and Eugene arrived. Eugene muttered that Mike from Yonkers would have to deduct the bridge toll and the parking from his share of that night’s dinner. When we told Mike from Yonkers of his obligation, he responded that by filling up our gas tanks in New Jersey, which both Eugene and I did, that we would actually be saving money, or at worst, break even, on the cost of getting to the appointed restaurant.

So Kong Dong was spacious with rows of wooden tables and Korean artifacts on the walls that no one could identify. The menu also served as a place mat and was limited to just nine varieties of tofu soup along with Korean bbq ribs. None of the soups were over $9 while the platter of ribs was $15, all well within our $20 per person budget.

Eugene suggested a kangaroo court to decide Rick’s fate since he was late. But before we had to actually figure out what goes on in a kangaroo court, Rick appeared and all of us ordered.

“Seafood tofu,” Eugene blurted out to the hovering waiter.

“How spicy?” the waiter asked.

We weren’t sure how So Kong Dong’s heat meter rated in our own spice universe. We looked to Mike from Yonkers for guidance.

“I usually get it hot,” he said. As opposed to the other options offered: “not spicy, not too spicy, medium hot or very hot.”

One seafood tofu times four.

The waiter glanced at Gerry.

“Seafood tofu,” Gerry ordered.

And then to Rick

“Seafood tofu,” he said.

I was next.

“Seafood tofu,” I mumbled into my hand as the waiter scribbled.

Breaking the monotony, Zio went for the pork tofu and, with a knowing grin; Mike from Yonkers ordered the oyster tofu. “I always get the oyster tofu,” he said without any further explanation. We added two orders of the ribs and our waiter departed.

A few moments’ later bowls of Korean condiments began to assemble on our table; kim chee, bean sprouts, spicy pickles, cold cabbage soup, and six raw eggs. “You crack them into the soup,” said the soft tofu wizened, Mike from Yonkers.

Korean condiments

And then the ribs arrived. Layers of thinly sliced beef short ribs in a slightly sweet marinade complete with huge scissors, resembling garden shears, to cut them up and portion them out to the members of our now salivating party.

Before we could finish with the ribs, the bowls of soup began to crowd our table. Each was bubbling; still boiling hot from the kitchen. As our waiter placed our bowls in front of us, I watched as the soup continued to bubble. How could it continue to bubble so long after coming off the flame?  I tried to wait; to give it more time to cool, but I’m an impatient eater. I  scooped some into my spoon, blew on it and then tentatively sipped. It had cooled down enough, or so I thought, not to have seared the inside of my mouth and was able to swallow it. The soup was fiery and loaded with shrimp, oysters, and clams. I cracked the egg into it and, as Mike from Yonkers instructed, stirred it before it turned into one solid hard boiled egg yolk. I also added rice into the soup in hopes that would also bring the temperature down, and it did, but not by much.

Ribs with garden shears.

There wasn’t much conversation as we worked through the soup, intermittently draining our spice assaulted sinuses into the much too thin paper napkins we were administered, and, as usual, Mike from Yonkers trailed behind all of us, methodically spooning his soup into his bowl of rice instead of vice versa as I was doing. Some secrets of soft tofu, he obviously wasn’t willing to share.


Dessert was a stick of gum that held its flavor for less than five minutes. We all praised Mike from Yonkers for his choice but the next day, thinking I had escaped burn damage, realized there were blisters throughout the insides of my mouth, under my tongue, wherever the blistering soup touched.  The mutilation of my mouth notwithstanding, if I’m ever “banking” in Ft. Lee, I won’t hesitate to return for another chance at a bowl of soft tofu.

The Noise of Noodles in the Night

4 Jan

Jang Tur Noodle
35-38 Union St

After walking up the steps to Jang Tur Noodle and entering the very brightly-lit restaurant, the smell of cooking cabbage almost overwhelmed me. I was the first to arrive at the Korean noodle shop I chose in the Korean enclave of the Asian community of Flushing, just off Northern Boulevard. And after a few whiffs inside the restaurant, even with the door open on an early winter evening, I was tempted to send out an all-points bulletin via my cell phone that we should find another venue—there certainly were plenty within the vicinity. But it was too late—I could see Gerry, Eugene, and Mike from Yonkers through the glass windows as they climbed the steps that led to the Jang Tur’s entrance.

I didn’t say anything about the smell; I was waiting to see if any of the others would comment. No one did and maybe it was because the door was open for a bit. Or maybe because I was becoming acclimated to it that I no longer found the smell offensive and instead of my stomach wrenching, it was now clamoring for sustenance.

The restaurant’s lone waitress brought us plastic glasses of what looked like beer but was actually warm, barley tea. There were pictures of the noodle dishes offered on the wall with descriptions of them underneath. The descriptions were in Korean only and the waitress spoke no English. There were, however, a few laminated one page menus that did give English translations of the noodle dishes offered.

I’ll take the one with the noodles.

While we waited for Rick, Eugene chatted about the five Christmas parties he was soon to attend including one that featured a “Viennese” table. Rick’s arrival saved us from hearing more about the Viennese table and, with the exception of Zio, all were present.

A few days earlier we received an email from Zio with his apologies for not being able to make the dinner.  “I have a chance to make a good chunk of money if I go to ct (Connecticut) on Tuesday,” was Zio’s brief email message. The murkiness of it led to wild speculation about what he would actually be doing in Connecticut to make a “good chunk of money.”

The noodles at Jang Tur were, according to the English-language menu, “hand cut or hand torn and made on the premises daily.” There were also two variations of dumplings, chive and beef and when the waitress came to our table we pointed to them. And then doing more pointing, we picked out our noodle bowls.

When I arrived, there were two diners in the tiny restaurant, a man and a woman. The man was slurping magnificently. I peered to see what it was he was so proficiently devouring. It was a bowl of something dark red, almost clay-like in color. It could only be the noodles in red bean porridge. If he was having it, I wanted it too.

Red Bean noodles and dumplings

“Red bean?” our waitress said in her very limited English. She wanted to make sure that it was really what I wanted. I confirmed with an enthusiastic nod. Mike from Yonkers pointed to the noodles in spicy anchovy soup on the menu, Gerry the rice cake and dumpling soup, and Rick, the stir fried squid with rice.

Instead of pointing, Eugene insisted on speaking in loud, clear English and asked for the noodles in a spicy red pepper sauce with vegetables. Our waitress looked at him blankly. He then pointed. She nodded.

“No, mushrooms, right?” he bellowed as if she had any idea what he was asking. We’ve learned over the years that Eugene has an unusual aversion to mushrooms that’s so drastic it’s as if he has a life compromising allergy to the fungi.

Seeing she wasn’t responding, he tried again. “I can’t have mushrooms,” he said shaking his head. “No mushrooms?”

“Mushrooms,” she mouthed like an alien learning the language of the foreign intruder.

Eugene shook his head again. “No mushrooms,” he repeated.

Mimicking Eugene, she shook her head too and said, “No mushrooms.” Apparently that was enough to satisfy Eugene and we were spared anymore mushroom discussion.

Jang Tur’s kimchi

The dumplings arrived along with big bowls of kimchi and a spicy, pickled squash. The dumplings were light as tissue and perfect with the salty dipping sauce that accompanied them. The steaming, dark red porridge came next. I took a few bites. At first it was bland, like porridge can be, and negotiating the thick noodles with the silver chopsticks at the table proved troublesome. In the bowl also were small dumplings similar to those found in traditional chicken and dumpling soup. I added a bit of the hot pepper condiment to give it a little bite, but it wasn’t needed. What started as bland evolved into a comforting, unique taste.

Spicy anchovy noodle soup

Mike from Yonkers was struggling with his soup; taking tiny sips because of the intense spice of it. Soon his nose was flowing freely and he was honking loudly into a handkerchief. Eugene incorporated the Sicilian method to eating noodles, using a spoon with his chopsticks. He had no complaints about the heat. “It’s like a noodle salad,” he said of his bowl.

Eugene’s “noodle salad” sans mushrooms.

While Rick was picking out the larger, tough pieces of squid from the smaller, more tender ones on his plate, Gerry was deliberately sipping his soup; savoring it. “The best soup I’ve ever had,” was the supreme compliment he uttered after finishing it.

“The Best Soup Ever;” so said Gerry.

With all the bowls just $7.99 each, we were way under budget. We had some extra time so we crossed Northern Boulevard and entered the Cool Hope Beer Hall. The “Hall” was practically empty and the five of us spread out at the bar. The television above the bar was broadcasting a Korean version of “Dancing With the Stars.” We watched silently while we enjoyed a round of soju, Korean sake, chased by Budweiser before heading back out into the winter night.

The Slender Buddha

7 Sep

Buddha BBEEQ
1750 Second Ave
New York, NY

Zio was grumpy. He had a six am wake up call courtesy of the newest tenant in his Connecticut refuge, his three-year old grandson. And a morning watching Noggin with little Sammy just added a layer of lethargy to his already foul demeanor. But despite the indignities he endures on a daily basis, his dedication to the cause was too great to let his hardships stop him from the job at hand. Ever since the Uncle George’s debacle many years ago, Zio, when his turn arose, openly sought assistance in picking an appropriately grimy, but authentic eating establishment for our group. Feeling confident, maybe even a little cocky, he tackled his most recent assignment pretty much on his own.

After doing his research, he settled on an Asian-themed barbecue place in the unlikely, for our group, neighborhood of the Upper East Side.  According to all internet accounts, Buddha Bbeeq was “good for groups,” but upon entering, the only groups the tiny place could be good for were groups of no more than two. Still, luck was on our side and a couple agreed to move to another table so we could squeeze together a table for four with a smaller table fitting the six of us into the too cozy confines.

Good for groups?

Though for Gerry, cozy was a codeword for torturous. In an effort to combat an impending midlife crisis, Gerry solicited the aide of his football-playing son’s personal trainer to reclaim a body ravaged by a variety of vices including cheap beer, vodka, and deep fried chitterlings. To his credit, for a man past his prime, the trainer was working miracles on him. But it seems that on the day we were to meet, he and Mike from Yonkers, who inserted himself as Gerry’s workout partner, were egged on by said sadistic trainer to don boxing gloves and put on a poor man’s “Fight Club” exhibition. The result was an obviously lucky punch by Mike from Yonkers that landed just inside the chest protection gear and finding one of Gerry’s ribs. The doctor’s diagnosis was vague, but Gerry swallowed some codeine-laced Tylenol and showing his grit, joined us never complaining about the tight seating. And what made it worse for Gerry, I’m sure, was seeing Mike from Yonkers bounding in, unscathed from their battle and with barely a nod of remorse for the damage he inflicted.

In the takeout and quick-turnover haven of the Upper East Side, the servers at Buddha Bbeeq were not used to the dallying of our group and their consternation was obvious. In an effort to ease their anxieties, Zio ordered us a few of the restaurant’s smaller dishes including as the menu proclaimed “tasty twists on the ever popular favorite” Japanese sushi rolls. Instead of traditional Japanese sushi, the rolls were prepared “Korean-style” stuffed with barbecued beef, ham and egg, and shrimp salad. They were substantial, but lacking in distinction and the scallion pancakes and dumplings we sampled, including one with beef and kimchee, suffered from the same dilemma.

The view from Buddha Bbeeq.*

The bbeq plates offered a variety of globe-trotting Asian styles including the restaurant’s obvious slant, Korean, along with a Thai red curry, teriyaki, Vietnamese lemongrass, and a Hawaiian version “sweetened with pineapple juice” which no one dared order. Rick and Mike from Yonkers, knowing that it’s always best to stick to the closest possible ethnic origins of the restaurant, ordered the “K” bbeeq, Korean barbecue beef over rice while Zio and Eugene were a bit more adventurous trying the peanut lime version, beef for Zio, chicken for Eugene, that came with a thickened unsightly sauce that drenched their respective meats.

Beef rice bowl

I bypassed the barbecue and like Rick and Mike went on the Korean theme with the Korean rice bowl, also known in Korean restaurants as “bim bam bap,” but instead of beef opted for chicken, while Gerry, for possibly the first time ever, admitted that he “wasn’t really very hungry,” and deferred his ordering to me. Thinking a spicy dish would distract him from his throbbing ribs, I ordered him the chili peanut noodles with shrimp.

When the food arrived, no one complained.  The portions were large and the meals somewhat flavorful, but, judging from Eugene’s uncharacteristic silence after sampling his dish, we knew our high standards had not been met. In my experience, any efforts at melding various ethnic styles usually results in a watered down version of the original. And that was the case at Buddha BBeeq; the Korean dishes were good, but not as good as you would find in a decent Korean restaurant while the Thai and Vietnamese, again, passable but not nearly at the quality those particular ethnic restaurants usually offer. The best you could say about Buddha BBeeq was that it offered solid Upper East Side takeout. And despite the disappointment, Zio was almost cheerful knowing that, spending a solitary night in his Astoria love nest, he would not have to endure an early morning marathon of “Go Gabba Gabba” and “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!”.

Zio’s nightmare

*Buddha Bbeeq survives despite the continuous presence of the Second Avenue subway construction project just outside their restaurant.

Keeping Up With The Koreans

6 Jul

Han Bat
53 W. 35th St
New York

Rick, believing that soon those who enter Manhattan below 86th Street in a car will face Mayor Bloomberg’s traffic control toll, wanted to grant the commuters among us, Gerry, Mike from Yonkers, and Eugene, one last toll-free foray into midtown. But trying to find a midtown destination that fulfills our stringent criteria is a serious challenge. After much deliberation, he finally narrowed his choice between two Korean restaurants in Koreatown, the area between 5th and 6th Avenues between 30th and 36th St, with 32nd Street being the most densely Korean block in the city; the enticingly-named Kom Tang Soot Bull House or Han Bat. Though dining at a place called the Soot Bull House would be memorable for the name alone, Rick, for no particular reason, choose Han Bat.

When I was executing and reviewing contracts for a publishing company many years ago, there was a Chinese restaurant I frequented for their lunch special at the same location where Han Bat is now. It was Chinese a restaurant run by Koreans but with a Chinese menu, though kim chee, spicy Korean cabbage, was always available. At this most recent incarnation, if the owners are the same, any nods to Chinese food have been eliminated. At Han Bat it’s just straight ahead Korean minus the sometimes suffocating smoke from table grills.

OB Beer

There were five of us; Mike from Yonkers on a Southern road trip was absent. Once we all arrived we were hustled to our reserved table. Reservations are usually never needed on our unique expeditions, but it was a good thing Rick secured one; Han Bat, on this particular Tuesday evening, was mobbed. Menus adorned with color photographs of a variety of the dishes offered were distributed and before we had a chance to even glance at them, a waiter appeared and asked if we were ready to order. We were ready to order beer, but nothing else and before the bottles of OB Korean beer were delivered to the table, another waiter appeared again asking if we were ready to order. It was clear that there would be no chance of consultation of the menu with the wait staff at Han Bat.

If you are familiar with Korean food, Han Bat offered the standards, but Korean standards can be exotic. On Han Bat’s menu were items like “ox-knee” meat, “jello extracted from ox-leg,” broiled meat, tongue and spleen, beef intestines, and something called yook hoe, shredded raw beef marinated in seasoned sesame oil. After the impenetrable cow foot at Florence’s in Harlem at our last dinner, the yook hoe was as exotic as we were going to get at Han Bat. Since this was Rick’s choice, we let him pick out the dishes for us and he did not disappoint.

First out were the numerous small plates of side dishes like the aforementioned kim chee, salty fish, pickled bean sprouts, hot peppers, raw garlic and others which our group made quick work of. Without much hesitation the bibimbab followed.  A do it yourself concoction of rice, marinated meat, egg, and vegetables in a sizzling hot stone bowl with Zio, in this case, doing it himself, pouring in the barbecue sauce, mixing up the rice with the egg and meat turning it into a sloppy mess. The mesh of flavors of the dish, however, belied its appearance and even made Eugene forget for a moment his disappointment with the Soprano’s finale. “How you going to end it like that?” he complained. “They didn’t explain anything! It was a like a ball game without a final score.”

What, no bibimbab?

The French, of course, celebrate uncooked hamburger with their famous tartare. Much more modest are the Koreans and their underrated yook hoe, featuring raw sliced beef marinated in sesame oil and hot peppers and served in a green salad. There were no complaints at our table that the meat was raw; in fact, the rich blood red appearance of the meat seemed to awaken Zio’s usually dormant primal cravings as he devoured his portion.

Yook hoe: Korean tartare

Though the yook hoe was in no way reminiscent to the French beef tartare, I detected cultural similarities in the ojinguh bokum, squid in a spicy sauce that came with a few strands of spaghetti making it somewhat like Italian linguini calamari while the jaeyuk bokum, pork shredded and tender in a tangy, tomato-based “special” sauce, reminded me of Southern pulled pork. Our final entrée was pajun, a choice based on one of the pictures on the menu and described as a “shell fish pan cake.” What we got was an accurate reproduction of the photograph with the shellfish in this case, being shrimp.


Our group is notorious for the speed in which we can shove food into our mouths, but at Han Bat our eating pace was, compared to others in the restaurant, sluggish. We were still leisurely picking tiny pieces of raw beef from the lettuce on the yook hoe plate and scraping bits of crusty rice off the bottom of the now cool stone dish that held the bibimbab long after the check and orange slices were deposited on our table while most of the crowd of predominately Koreans, both men and women, who arrived at the restaurant when we did or after had long since sucked down their meals. The eating gusto displayed at Han Bat was on a level our group could only dream of attaining.

Han Bat remains on 35th Street; the menu virtually unchanged from when visited. And Mayor Bloomberg was not able to shove through his traffic control law.

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.

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