Friday, March 25, 2011

A restaurant makes you forget the recession

Banchan, a small dish accompanied with a main ...Image via Wikipedia
A selection of panchan or banchan, side dishes served with every Korean meal.

When I first started going to North Jersey's Korean restaurants nearly 15 years ago, the value was outstanding.

Lunches and dinners often included six or more side dishes or panchan -- small, colorful portions of vegetables, tofu, fish and meat that were arrayed around your main dish.

Yong Su San in Englewood Cliffs served 10 such dishes, including a small broiled mackerel, until it closed.

But as food prices rose and especially after the recession hit, the number of side dishes declined. 

So Gong Dong, our favorite tofu house in Palisades Park, now serves four, which is pretty much the norm nowadays, though I occasionally encounter six or seven. 

Though the value isn't as good as in the past, a belly busting meal of soft tofu with seafood, rice and side dishes is only $10, including tax.

So I was bowled over Thursday night, when we made an unplanned stop at Pine Hill, a Korean restaurant in Paramus, and the waitress brought out 10 side dishes after we placed our order. That wasn't all.

My bibimbap, a rice dish made in a stone bowl, came with miso soup, and a waiter later brought us a stone-bowl egg souffle.

Only two of the side dishes disappointed -- some iceberg lettuce with dressing and a portion of tired-looking corn kernels that was a poor imitation of mixed vegetables. 

I loved the taste of the cabbage kimchi, and the waitress brought a second dish when we finished the first. There also was cooked tofu in batter, shredded radish, greens and, yes, a small, whole mackerel.

Dolsot bibimbap, a Korean traditional dish com...Image via Wikipedia
Sone-bowl bibimbap with a raw egg yolk.

I asked the waitress to hold the ground beef from my rice-and-vegetable dish, which was topped with a fried egg and cost $13.95. I couldn't finish it.

My wife's soft-tofu stew with seafood was $10.95, but she complained there wasn't enough shrimp in it. My son loved his spicy soup of egg, noodles and bone-in short ribs ($13.95). Both of those dishes came with steamed rice.

Pine Hill Restaurant, 123 Paramus Road, Paramus; 201-843-0170. 
Open for lunch and dinner.

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