Photographs by Roy Gumpel
Dramatic presentation: Popular dishes from Seoul Kitchen in Beacon include bibimbap (above left) and chapchae (above right).
One such authentic spot is the almost three-year-old Seoul Kitchen in Beacon.
Korean-born owner Heewon Marshall came to the U.S. in 2004 by way of Japan, where she was an insurance salesperson. Looking for a change, she came to America, eventually ending up in New York City. While there, she actually avoided fraternizing with Koreans so that she could learn English. One hot summer week day, she took a break from her job search and hopped a train up the Hudson to explore beyond the city limits. On the train, she met her future husband, which is how she came to live here. Raves from her husband and his friends about her great home cooking eventually pushed her to open Seoul Kitchen almost three years ago.
Located on Beacon’s east end, the compact restaurant accommodates about 20 people, who sit on low stools and benches in a vibrant plum-purple and moss-green dining room.
Marshall is ever on hand, explaining the dishes and guiding customers unfamiliar with the cuisine. She usually recommends bibimbap, Korea’s signature dish. Consisting of squash, carrot, radish, soy bean sprouts, fried seaweed, and brown rice, the dish is dramatically topped with a fried egg at the last moment, then mixed together (“bibim” means mix and “bap” means rice) with gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste).
“The vegetables are all lightly cooked separately to keep their individual flavors,” says Marshall. “It’s a very traditional, old-fashioned dish — and it’s also gluten-free.”
You also must try the chapchae, or sweet potato noodles. These jewel-like transparent treats are associated with festive occasions and have a distinctive chewy texture. There’s also beef and pork bulgogi and short ribs marinated in Marshall’s proprietary sauce. Order with a side of fried napa cabbage, kimchi dumplings, and spicy rice cakes; wash it all down with cinnamon and persimmon fruit juice, a popular drink in Korea.
The menu responds to the weather: when it’s rainy or cold, Marshall gets to work making satisfying stews like Doenjang jjigae — vegetables and bean curd simmered in bean paste. “I use my own stock, I never use water,” she says. “I put in seaweed and vegetables and boil it for half the day.”
With warmer days on the horizon, she’ll also be whipping up Patbingsu: shaved ice with a red bean topping — a refreshing way to top off a meal.
If you’re looking for the Korean barbecue experience with tableside chefs, head to O’Sho steakhouse in Poughkeepsie. You might have noticed the fortress-like building on Route 9 across from the Poughkeepsie Galleria Mall. Here Korean BBQ is prepared at your table by chefs using smoke-less grills. Kimchi and rice make appropriate side dishes.
Or visit Toro in Fishkill. Though it advertises sushi on the sign, the restaurant has a robust Korean menu, too. In fact, Korean-Japanese restaurants are a common combination, with Korean being the spicier of the two. Here you’ll find Kalbi, which is grilled marinated short ribs that you assemble into a little rice bundle cradled in lettuce. Also try the bossam, steamed pork belly with spiced radish and napa cabbage; and variations on traditional bibimbap.