Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Korean restaurants battle for our loyalty

Bibimbap, a Korean dishImage via Wikipedia
Stone-bowl bibimbap can be ordered with a cooked egg on top and without meat.

At the end of next month, it will be a full year since my family gave up eating meat and poultry, and ramped up our consumption of fish and seafood. In that time, we've only eaten at Korean restaurants that offer such non-meat dishes as soft-tofu stew and a rice-and-vegetable combination called bibimbap.

Korean restaurants in North Jersey come and go, but new ones seem to appear all the time, especially on Broad Avenue and other streets in Palisades Park, which has a high concentration of Korean-Americans. 

I visited the ShopRite there the other day and saw two restaurants and a 24-hour spa west of Grand Avenue that I never knew existed.

I'll have to try them, I said to myself. 

If you avoid the mystery meat served in Korean barbecue restaurants, you're in for a healthy and inexpensive meal -- tofu, seafood, rice and uncooked vegetable side dishes, including kimchi and bean sprouts. And there are some dishes that aren't spicy or which can be adjusted to be as hot or as mild as you want. 

Book Chang Dong

This full-service Korean restaurant replaced a Korean-owned Vietnamese restaurant. Before that, it was a soft-tofu restaurant I visited a number of times for lunch. The interior, including the worn wooden floor, has seen better days.

But Book Chang Dong is the only place I know in Palisades Park that says it uses organic tofu and rice from seed that hasn't been genetically modified.

As at So Gong Dong -- the second-floor soft-tofu restaurant on Broad Avenue we favor most -- a meal of soft-tofu stew, fresh egg to cook in the boiling broth, rice and side dishes is $9.99, but here tax is not included. The stew is offered in more variations, though. My son is eating meat again and chose ox tail, I went for seafood.

We loved the stew, but thought the portion was slightly smaller than at So Gong Dong. We also liked the cabbage kimchi, but not the bland cucumber kimchi. And we got one more side dish here (five instead of four.)

The standout was the rice-flour pancake of seafood and scallions served on a round stone plate. It was bigger, thicker and crispier than the one at the rival restaurant, but it cost more ($16.99 v. $9.99) and came to the table unsliced. 

Book Chang Dong, 520 Bergen Boulevard, Palisades Park; 201-585-9515.

Rib-sticking breakfast

After I dropped off my car for service at Toyota of Hackensack this morning, I walked up to Main Street for breakfast at Galapagos Restaurant, which offers typical Ecuadorian food and a beautiful wall painting of the Galapagos Islands.

I chose scrambled eggs with corn (mote pillo solo), actually oversized kernels of hominy also used in a Mexican soup called pozole. I asked the cook to make the eggs with oil, not butter, and to hold the fried meat. Instead of french fries, I got rice and beans on the side.

The scramble was bland, but improved greatly when I added homemade hot sauce with chopped onion and cilantro that was on the table. The bill was $6, including two cups of black coffee.

When I asked what another customer was eating, an employee said it was a large mound of green plantains with cheese and pork called bolon, but that it could be made without pork.

Galapagos Restaurant, 222 Main St., Hackensack; 201-342-2222.
Accepts credit cards, $10 minimum.

Ethnic food at Costco

I picked to three jumbo Korean pears -- a crisp fruit that is a cross between a pear and an apple -- for about $2.15 each at Costco in Hackensack. 

Four vegetarian meals from Kitchens of India were about $1.65 each for 10-ounce pouches: curries of red kidney beans, black gram lentils and chick peas, and spinach with cottage cheese and sauce.

Are signs too small?

Are the price signs at ShopRite too small? At the Hackensack and Palisades Park supermarkets, I thought DeCecco pasta was on sale during the 40th anniversary Can Can Sale for 99 cents, down from $1.50, and in Pal Park, I thought a dozen cans of Adirondack seltzer were $1.60, compared to the normal sale price of $1.99.

But DeCecco pasta was $1.50 -- a savings of 99 cents -- my receipt said. The seltzer was $1.99 -- a savings of $1.60 -- but the store was out of it.  I got a rain check for four packs at $1.60, though. I also returned the pasta for a refund.

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