Sunday, July 10, 2011

Beef isn't the only choice for Korean BBQ

So Moon Nan Jib is one of the few Korean barbecue restaurants in Palisades Park and Fort Lee that still uses wood charcoal.


Sitting around the charcoal grill at So Moon Nan Jib on Saturday, we were trying to remember the last time we had what my son calls "cook on the table."

For years, cooking thinly sliced beef or ribs over a grill in the middle of the table was one of our favorite meals -- Korean or otherwise -- at So Moon Nan Jib, Madangsui and other North Jersey restaurants.

The meals are filling and full of fun, as you wrap beef, garlic, kimchi, shredded scallion salad, rice and whatever else will fit into red-leaf lettuce leaves, and do your best to cram the whole package into your mouth.

But Korean restaurants don't tell you anything about how the beef was raised and, for more than a year, we prepared the meal at home, using free-range, grass-fed Australian beef sold at ShopRite supermarkets.

Seafood only

Then, in February 2010, we stopped eating meat and poultry altogether. 

My wife and son resumed eating meat several months later, but I'm still eating only seafood.

Luckily, So Moon Nan Jib in Palisades Park is one of the few places offering raw shrimp to cook on the table-top grill, supplemented by seven non-meat side dishes that are part of every Korean meal.

If you want to cook on the table in a Korean restaurant, you have to order a minimum of two portions of meat.

So at So Moon Nan Jib, we ordered the bulgogi, slices of marinated beef ($28.99), and the butterflied shrimp ($24.99 for a dozen). We also ordered pricey translucent noodles called japchae ($17.99), but we couldn't finish them and would have had enough to eat without them.

The restaurant's interior seems to have been freshened, and service was attentive, with the waitresses doing some of the grilling for us and clearing empty dishes.

Side dishes

The seven side dishes included cabbage and radish kimchis, bean sprouts, an American-style salad in a creamy dressing, broccoli and a hot egg souffle you eat with a spoon.

The spicy radish kimchi hid slices of chewy raw fish, and the cabbage kimchi contained a raw oyster. Rice, bean paste and a scallion salad to wrap in the lettuce with the beef or shrimp completed the meal.

Before the recession, waitresses would replace a side dish without asking, but on Saturday night, I had to ask for more radish and cabbage kimchi and more red-leaf lettuce. 

After we finished, an American woman with her husband at the table across the way said, "I'll bet you know exactly how I feel."

We agreed all of us were stuffed.

Then and now

In February 2005, I wrote a review of So Moon Nan Jib for The Record's Dining Out on $50 column, referring to a meal for four people, including tax and tip.

Back then, the restaurant served soup and more side dishes, called panchan, with the meal.

On Saturday evening, three of us spent $94, including a bottle of Korean beer ($5),  Sprite ($1.99), tax and tip. 

Without the al la carte noodle dish, the bill would have been about $76.

So Moon Nan Jib, 238 Broad Ave., Palisades Park; 
201-944-3998. Open seven days, valet parking in rear, sushi bar.

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