As I’ve written before Northern Boulevard is New York City’s real Koreatown, vast and overwhelming with tons of restaurants. I can barely keep track of them, which is why I’m glad my pal Peter Cucè hipped me to Geo Si Gi, and agreed to do this guest post. I’ve been meaning to try it for years. Until I dined there with him and some friends I never realized the image on the sign was a caveman; I always thought it was a fish. Peter Cucè is a food-obsessed coffee lover who intermittently chronicles New York City cafe culture via a variety of internet outlets. He has eaten his way through nearly every cuisine available locally and beyond and is now systematically working his way through regional Chinese and Korean food in Flushing and Sunset Park and cataloging his efforts via Instagram. You can also catch Peter on Twitter @petekachu. Take it away Peter . . .
Geo Si Gi is one of around 10 restaurants along a strip of Northern Boulevard in a neighborhood sometimes called Murray Hill but also referred to as East Flushing or just plain old Flushing. Collectively these restaurants are the northern beachhead of Murray Hill’s Mokja Golmak or Eater’s Alley, Korean vernacular for an area that has a lot of restaurants with different specialties.
I’ve been gradually working my way through these establishments and finally convened a party to visit Geo Si Gi, whose specialty is gamjatang, a pork bone casserole offered in five variations including dried cabbage, kimchi, curry, and seafood. Unless you go at lunchtime, gamjatang requires a group, because as is often the case at Korean restaurants, the casserole dishes are huge and built for sharing, starting at $29.95 for the most basic version for two people and topping out at $57.95 for the seafood gamjatang for four.
Both times we visited we opted for the kimchi gamjatang, a swampy stew of tender pork on the bone, mustardy kimchi, and lots of vegetables including greens, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Upon ordering, the server plops a propane gas burner on your table and the stew is brought over in a wok-like casserole dish with handles. The vegetables are piled on top, raw, the burner is turned on, and they cook down into the spicy, fragrant, dark red broth, which gets its color from red chili peppers and also includes garlic, pork, and ground perilla seeds, among other ingredients.
After a short wait, the server comes over and ladles some into your bowl, making sure to include a hunk of pork. Shake up the bottle of dipping sauce, which is soy sauce mixed with wasabi, pour a little into the small dish, and try the meat both with and without—the sauce imparts an addictive little kick. Leftover bone hunks can be discarded in the provided metal container. All kinds of extras can be ordered to complement the gamjatang, such as rice cakes and udon noodles, but if you order the fried rice, it will be brought to the table toward the end of your meal and cooked in the dregs of your stew along with some extra vegetables, kimchi, and sesame oil.
Many believe that gamjatang is named after the Korean word for potato, “gamja,” but in this case it refers to the tendon that attaches the pork to the bone. Oftentimes the stew, which originated in the southwestern Korean area called Jeolla-Do, famed for its cuisine, doesn’t even have potatoes, and in fact, back when the dish was created, potatoes didn’t exist in Korea. This makes sense, because the potatoes included in Geo Si Gi’s version are a bit dry and nothing special tastewise, hardly an ingredient to center a dish around.
Of course, no Korean meal would be complete without the free side dishes, banchan, that are brought to the table sometimes before you even order. Geo Si Gi’s handful usually includes a stellar dubu jorim, braised tofu covered with red pepper flakes and finely chopped scallions. They’ll also bring over complementary egg soufflé toward the end of the meal, a standard touch at nearly every Korean restaurant I’ve visited, but theirs is extra flavorful, cooked in dashima, kelp broth.
A good strategy for a group at Geo Si Gi is to order the gamjatang for two along with some other dishes and then share the whole shebang. Luckily there are other good options on the relatively small menu. Their pajun, which can easily feed four, are thick, chewy, Korean-style pancakes packed with either kimchi and vegetables or seafood and scallions, and are a bit unusual in that they’re brushed with a light coating of egg before cooking, but otherwise unremarkable.
Other things we tried at Geo Si Gi include dak dori tang, a simple, comforting stew of chicken and potatoes simmered in soy sauce and chili, a bit spicy but also sweet, and LA galbi gui, tangy marinated, thin-sliced grilled beef ribs that get their name from a way of cutting the meat that originated in the Los Angeles Korean community.
Consider ordering a bottle of makkoli, a low-alcohol (6-7%), fizzy, fermented rice drink that tastes something like soda and is helpful for reducing the effects of spice on the tongue. Shake it well until it looks milky and pour it into the drinking bowl, but make sure not to pour for yourself—it’s considered poor form in Korea.
Geo Si Gi, 152-28 Northern Blvd., Flushing, 718-888-0001