(Image via Wikipedia)
By VICTOR E. SASSON
There are dozens of barbecue, tofu, cold-noodle and other types of Korean restaurants in North Jersey, but now, a chef trained at The Culinary Institute of America and tested under fire on Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen" has broken the mold with Chef Ji's Moon Jar in Fort Lee.
Ji Cha, 36, turns out big flavors in this small, strip-mall space on Palisade Avenue, in sight of the George Washington Bridge (former home of Greek To Me, which moved down the street into its own building).
I didn't count them Friday night, but there are probably 25 seats at tables and a bar in the simply decorated but chic room.
The limited menu offers small plates of Asian-inspired food, all under $10, in a bow to the sluggish economy, plus specials, such as my perfectly cooked miso-sake fillet of sea bass served over spicy noodles with seaweed salad ($18.99).
I also tried one of the small plates, portobello "fries," lightly breaded pieces of mushroom served with an aioli ($6.25).
Other small plates include hoisin duck, dumplings, scallops wrapped in bacon and Korean BBQ sliders with Korean cole slaw.
A couple at the next table raved about several of the small plates they had sampled, including the sliders, duck and scallops.
Another special Friday night was a cheese-stuffed hamburger, and Chef Ji offers a five-course tasting menu for $36 or $45 with wine.
The bar turns out specialty drinks, such as the large, sake mojito with fresh mint that cooled me off ($9 or two for $9 during happy hour). Bottles of wine are under $30.
Service was helpful but not polished. Just when I needed a refill of tap water, Chef Ji was there with a pitcher, and she also cleared my table. All the hard surfaces can make conversation difficult when several tables are occupied.
The bar-restaurant takes its name from a mild, fermented Korean rice wine called makgulli -- Moon Jar. The chef offered me and other diners a small tumbler of it after our meals.
I was told makgulli was made by Korean farmers, reminding me of their American counterparts in the rural South who gave us moonshine and stock-car racing.
Chef Ji's Moon Jar, 1636 Palisade Ave., Fort Lee; 201 363-0097. Dinner only. Call for hours. See link below: