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|A video shows how one Korean home cook makes soft-tofu stew (see link below).|
Was it my idea to look around for a soft-tofu restaurant that offers better food and service than the second-floor tofu house in Palisades Park that has served us so many satisfying meals in recent years?
We tried Gamasot Restaurant in Fort Lee last April and Book Chang Dong in Palisades Park this month. On Saturday, we waded into the crowded dining room at So Kong Dong in Fort Lee -- and found it differs from our favorite, So Gong Dong, in more than how the second word is spelled.
The Fort Lee restaurant is where I first tried this Korean comfort food six or seven years ago, but I stopped going there after receiving terrible service on a night when the place was packed. I just happened to be comparing So Gong Dong and So Kong Dong for an article on inexpensive restaurants in The Record.
There is conflicting information on whether So Kong Dong and So Gong Dong are affiliated, but the well-dressed woman at the register Saturday evening said they don't have the same owner. I've heard from Korean friends that So Gong Dong is a section of Seoul where soft-tofu houses predominate.
Both interiors resemble traditional inns, but the Fort Lee restaurant has a showcase of beautiful Korean dolls. It is popular with families, and on Saturday, it filled up quickly between 5 and 6 p.m., and people were waiting for tables.
So Kong Dong offers a variety of soft-tofu stews, steamed rice, five side dishes, a fresh egg and tea for $9, including tax, $1 less than its Palisades Park rival. But if the small parking lot is filled, as it was on Saturday evening, you have to pay 50 cents for one hour of parking in the municipal lot across the street.
I liked the taste of my soft-tofu stew with oysters, which I ordered "very hot (spicy)," but it wasn't bubbling as furiously as I prefer for cooking the fresh egg. My wife and son said their pork version didn't taste as good as at our favorite place.
They also ordered "Korean BBQ ribs" ($14.99), the same price for what the Palisades Park restaurant lists as "prime beef."
Fort Lee doesn't offer Korean dumplings (mandoo) or a rice-flour seafood pancake (pajun) that you'll find in Pal Park for about $10 each. The dining room of the former and the wait staff both seem smaller. Portions at both places are the same, and both are BYO.
Fort Lee serves one more side dish or panchan and that's a delightful, mildly spicy water kimchi. The others are the same at both places -- cabbage and cucumber kimchis, bean sprouts and spicy raw squid.
Both places uses a beef or beef-bone broth, although I came across a You Tube video showing a woman making a seafood-vegetable broth at home (see link below).
So, our favorite soft-tofu restaurant remains on top. We plan to revisit Gamasot in Fort Lee soon, and that should do it.
So Kong Dong Restaurant, 130 Main St., Fort Lee; 201-585-1122.Restaurant So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor,
Palisades Park; 201-313-8900.