We love Korean restaurants for their outstanding service, abundant side dishes and good value, but we were disappointed during a visit last night to one of our favorite barbecue places, So Moon Nan Jib in Palisades Park.
The last time we had tried to eat there, more than a year ago, we found it closed for renovations. Looking around Saturday night, we couldn't tell what had changed in the dining room, but service was sluggish and I had to keep asking -- for more kimchi, for sliced garlic, for more napkins, for steamed rice.
Other Korean restaurants often replenish your side dishes without asking, at times even before you finish them.
So Moon Nan Jib is one of the few places in North Jersey that still uses charcoal in the table-top grills, and there is often a line out the door. Me, my wife and my son went early, between 5 and 6 p.m., got a table easily and were brought two menus. But no one came over to take our order until I gestured to one of the managers.
We chose marinated raw shrimp and bulgogi, thin-sliced raw beef, both for cooking on the table, and a platter of japchae, translucent noodles with bits of meat and vegetables. I don't know of any other barbecue restaurant serving these butterflied shrimp, which cook in only a few minutes and are bursting with flavor.
Most Korean meals come with an array of side dishes, and So Moon Nan Jib is now serving six: kimchi, steamed broccoli, stewed fish, mushrooms, American-style salad and radish. We also got a salad of shredded scallions, spicy red bean paste and red-leaf lettuce leaves for the barbecue, which you wrap in the lettuce along with as many of the other items as you can manage before stuffing the whole package into your mouth. Near the end, we got an egg souffle in a stone bowl.
It was a messy meal in a noisy dining room, and a lot more expensive than in the past. Our three entrees totaled $75.94, including tax. Ouch. I added a tip of $8.
We won't be returning to So Moon Nan Jib. Better choices are two restaurants where we had barbecue while it was closed: Woo Jung in Palisades Park and Madangsui in Fort Lee, where the beef is fresh and the charcoal comes out after 6 p.m.