Note: Our writer was invited to this event and received a complimentary meal.
Ga yeon, translated from Korean, means “beautiful encounter.” That term describes Fort Lee, New Jersey’s Gayeon so well: beautiful space, guests, and food.
Owner Andrew Sung isn’t new to the restaurant scene. He opened his first high-end Korean restaurant, Gaonnuri, three years ago in Manhattan. Gayeon’s executive chef, Seung Choi honed his skills in slow-cooked Korean food around the world, including attending culinary school in Korea. His résumé features chef roles at several top Korean hotels, at the popular Korean restaurant Samiin in Paris and the Dae Jang Kum restaurant in Dubai’s Royal Ascot Hotel.
Situated on an unassuming street in the Hudson Lights neighborhood, Gayeon is Fort Lee’s newish (it opened in August) truly authentic Korean restaurant. Immediately upon entering the beautifully designed, sexy, modern space, guests have a view of one of four private dining rooms with its ultra-long communal table. Beyond the private dining room is the main dining area overlooking a semi-open kitchen where an impressive team works to create a food experience unlike any I’ve had in the Garden State. Furnishings are modern and each table in the main dining room is equipped with custom-designed grills where guests interested in Korean barbeque can cook their food. There are impressive Korean art pieces including a stainless steel, wire mesh mural of a traditional Korean Maya harvest dance, done by artist SeungMo Park, hanging above the kitchen. (Photo shown at top, courtesy of Gayeon.)
The Food and Drinks
While I’ve enjoyed my fair share of casual Korean food when I worked in midtown, Manhattan, elevated Korean food was new to me prior to dining at Gayeon. The menu consists of cold and hot appetizers, Jun (Korean savory pancakes), barbeque, entrées and desserts.
We opted for the $42 three-course, prix fixe menu. That reasonably priced menu became a real bargain once we were served several kimchi and pickled side dishes. At the recommendation of our very friendly server, we started with the squid ink tofu Naeng Chae—squid ink, tofu, sliced vegetables, and shrimp; and the Bossam—boiled slices of pork belly served with octopus kimchi. I’m attracted to all foods featuring squid ink, but while the tofu bites were beautifully presented, they were bland. The Bossam was an incredible dish with its porky flavors, white non-spicy cabbage kimchi and spicy octopus kimchi. The white kimchi, which looked innocent enough in its presentation, was fantastic and a dish I would have preferred to not share with my dinner mate. (Mental note to get extra on my next visit.) The pork and kimchi could be eaten wrapped in minty perilla leaves—an outstanding dish.
For our entrées, we opted for the Dolsot Bibimbap with spicy pork—warm white rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables and gochujang (red chili paste) in a hot stone bowl and the Galbi Jjim—marinated prime short ribs and vegetable stew. The Bibimbap was visually-appealing and bursting with bold flavors from the spicy pork and seasoned vegetables. This dish, with slightly crispy rice on the bottom of the bowl, was likely my favorite food item of the evening. The galbi allowed us the opportunity to use the table grill to barbeque the ultra-tender beef.
The dessert menu is short for the prix-fixe option and we chose the Soo Jeong Kwa—poached pear, almond biscuit, medjool dates, honey ginger ice cream, and pear sorbet, and requested to buy an order of pastry chef Kim Sun Keum’s already famous Snickers Bar—Snickers crémeux, malt mousse, peanut butter snow, salted caramel ice cream, and chocolate sorbet. Both of these desserts were special. The pear dessert was served in a theatrical way with our server pouring the sauce from a small vessel. The Snickers Bar is deserving of all the attention it’s getting with its various textures and cold-warm sensations. We ended the meal on a very high note with these two dishes.
Gayeon also offers a seven-course tasting dinner, reasonably priced at $97, and a four-course lunch, priced at $39.
There’s a concise list of drinks including signature cocktails, classics, and some non-alcoholic options. I opted for the Bramble Tonic—gin, lemon juice and homemade Crème de Mure—the drink was pretty and refreshing. Happy hour takes place at the bar from Monday through Friday between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. with modestly priced food and drinks.
Monday through Sunday
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Hours and prices are subject to change.
2020 Hudson Street, Fort Lee, NJ 07024. (201) 944-2056.
I’m already making a list of friends to return to Gayeon with to do some more sampling.