It was a bitter cold January evening when the trio came together to celebrate Fiesta 2.0 on the return of one of our members to this country. The wind was strong and the moon was full.
Our original plan was to go to the Palisadium Restaurant DaeWon as part of an ongoing playful project of making a movie, and the great food. I had been to Daewon several years ago, a magnificent Korean restaurant overlooking the Hudson. Spectacular! We had talked about this adventure for several weeks. When we called for reservations, we learned that it had closed about a year ago! Not to be dissuaded, we thought we would go to Wonju II restaurant in Edgewater, in a ferry sitting on the Hudson River with a glamorous view of New York City. A review had described this Korean Restaurant as a good experience and the tables might sway a little, not from too much Soju, but from the ferryboat swaying gently with the river currents. This seemed the perfect answer to our dashed hopes of Daewon, even more romantic and a perfect place for our Fiesta. We call it Fiesta 2.0 because we had our first Fiesta more than a month ago when a different member returned from being out of the continental United States. After we had agreed upon this new destination, one in our trio learned from a Korean Cab driver that Wonju II had been out of business for a couple of years. This was beginning to seem like a conspiracy. Two prime Korean restaurants with outstanding food, locations and views were no longer in business!
Since our trio consists of aficionados who relish good Korean food, we are always on the lookout for Korean places that are excellent and unusual. Our criterion for the Fiesta is that we should try some place new. We felt there had to be something worthy of a Fiesta in New Jersey, so we decided to try Dong Bang Grill. What a great find! Located not far from the George Washington Bridge, this restaurant provides an elegant setting with etched glass panels and several dining rooms, along with a beautiful sushi bar. At first it was hard to appreciate the elegance we had stumbled upon, because there was no parking anywhere near the restaurant, and being from Texas, I have trouble with the concept of valet parking. Finally my friends persuaded me that this was the only alternative, but we were still faced with fierce winter gusts that cut to the bone as we left the car and headed for the entrance.
Every table is well appointed and arranged to create an open friendly atmosphere. There are windows that look to the East, including the bridge and upper NYC. After gaining entrance, we went up the stairs and were immediately ushered to a beautiful table near the wall with etched glass panels.
We were ready for a special feast, and the ambiance of the space welcomed us. With the barbecue grill in front of us, we were soon warming up to the prospects of the evening. My companions are much more knowledgeable than I about the nature of the menu, and soon they were conspiring to orchestrate the evening with an array of foods calculated to create an unforgettable sequence.
The first barbecue we had which was not marinated was SAENG GALBI: No frills just all natural 100% Black Angus beef short ribs, followed by DongBang GALBI : Beef short ribs in DB's own authentic marinade. Our soup was SAENGTAE JIGAE, a fresh pollack fish casserole with vegetables. The side dishes were like mini-feasts, plentiful and little taste excursions in their own right.
Perhaps the crowning moment for me was the discovery of OB, the premiere Korean beer. In general I have not been a beer drinker as my father prejudiced me against wanting to taste it by saying to me when I was very young that beer tasted awful, and as far as he was concerned "they could have left it in the horse."
OB had such a compelling taste that I could have stayed all night and drunk myself under the table, but fortunately I had friends who were more sensible. We drank a toast to Fiesta 2.0, to the new year and to the realization of our great and future dreams.
Looking across our neighboring tables we saw CHA DOL BAEGI, thin sliced sirloin steak with no marinade. Since I have never tried it, my friends decided we should conclude our meal with this third and final main course, which was a good decision since good things usually come in threes. We were not disappointed, but I discovered that we had to eat the steak as soon as it left the fire so it would not dry out.
We wanted to go somewhere for dessert and thought there would have to be some great places in Fort Lee, but our waitress knew of none and suggested we drive along main street. We did, and I can tell you that there is nothing grimmer than Main Street in Fort Lee after 10 p.m.
Instead, we went to a wonderful dessert place in Palisades Park, Fruit Gelatoria on Broad Avenue. It appears to be one of the few places in New Jersey that remains open until midnight. One of the attractive features of this Gelateria is that they make their own gelato and yogurt. The selection was extensive and delicious. I tried the mango gelato and my friends had yogurt. The yogurt was the best I have tasted, worth a drive to Palisades Park anytime. Even Fiestas have to come to a close, and although we teased each other about going to the city, I think we were willing to call it a Fiesta.
Outside, the winter evening had crept toward midnight, and the wind was still blowing, but a little less insistent. Inside, we were closing the Gelatoria, as we were the only remaining customers, and they had started to stack the chairs and sweep the floors.
Walking out into the night, I was struck by the silence of the brittle winter air; our celebration seemed punctuated by the full moon so luminous above us.