Sunday, January 22, 2012

New tofu house seeks foothold

Sundubu jjigae(순두부찌개), a Korean stew made with...
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You can poach an egg in the bubbling soft-tofu stew.

The banner in the window of a new restaurant in Palisades Park beckoned as we drove down Broad Avenue on Saturday evening toward our favorite soft-tofu house, So Gong Dong.

Actually, the big numbers on the sign at a new soft-tofu restaurant were all I could understand: $6.95. The rest of the sign was in Korean.

Does that mean soft-tofu stew, rice, fresh egg and side dishes cost only $6.95, compared to $9.99 at So Gong Dong and the affiliated So Kong Dong in Fort Lee?

The restaurant opened recently in the same space as Soft Tofu Restaurant, which served a varied Korean menu before it closed last year. Are these the same owners? Have they just remodeled? 

Are they using an introductory low price to gain a foothold just a couple of blocks away from the popular So Gong Dong?

I ate in the Soft Tofu Restaurant a few times, but when I took my family there, they were unhappy with the tofu stew's lack of red pepper, even though my wife and son asked for it extra spicy and sent it back to the kitchen for replacements. I had a comforting stew with a whole spring chicken.

On Saturday, we were very happy with our meal at So Gong Dong, which specializes in soft tofu -- available in 10 varieties -- and offers only a limited number of other dishes.

In addition to four soft-tofu stews, we ordered a seafood pancake ($11.99) for me and sliced, prime-beef bulgogi barbecue for the meat eaters in my family ($14.99).

The soft-tofu stew comes in a stone bowl with a second stone bowl of steamed rice, a fresh egg and four side dishes: spicy cabbage and cucumber kimchis, bean sprouts and raw squid in a really spicy sauce. 

They are brought to the table after you order your main dishes and usually are replenished without prompting.

Poach an egg

I cracked two small eggs into my bubbling oyster stew, and a few minutes later, broke a perfectly poached yolk over my steamed rice and ate them together with a spoon -- a terrific taste combination.

For the first time, I asked for my "more spicy" stew to be made with hot water instead of beef broth, and I couldn't tell the difference.

This is a family restaurant, with mostly Korean customers and a scattering of Japanese, Chinese and American loyalists sitting around a great comfort food.

 At the next table, a dozen adults and children speaking Chinese placed their order in English, ordering their stews "little spicy" or "not spicy."

All the prices on the place-mat menu are rounded up one cent on the bill: $10 for a complete soft-tofu meal, $12 for the pancake and $15 for the prime beef slices, but tax is included.

So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, Palisades Park; 
201-313-5550. BYO. Credit cards accepted.
Free parking on side streets.

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