Sunday, February 5, 2012

Your first challenge is finding the place

Fort Lee, New Jersey
Fort Lee, New Jersey (Photo credit: Dougtone)
You'll find a popular Korean restaurant only a couple of blocks down Fort Lee's Main Street (at Center Avenue, above). 

Editor's note: Today, I report on a visit to a popular tofu restaurant that has been operating under the radar since late 2010, and on our first meal from a vegetarian restaurant.

A popular restaurant specializing in Korean comfort food has been packing in customers for about 15 months in an out-of-the way location in Fort Lee.

BCD Tofu House opened in late 2010 in the Fort Lee Town Centre, a shopping plaza best known for its large Borders bookstore, which closed at the end of April 2011.

On Saturday, we visited the restaurant for the first time -- after I learned about it from my Korean barber, who lives in Fort Lee -- and were handed a pager. We waited about 30 minutes for a table.

The restaurant already was full shortly before 5:30 in the afternoon. The shopping plaza is elevated above Schlosser Street and businesses face an interior parking lot, so unless you know it's there, it is easy to miss.

BCD Tofu House probably is the only Korean restaurant in North Jersey with a playroom for children, including a TV and climbing wall. Next door, is a large Korean bakery and coffee house.

The menu lists 10 soft-tofu stews ($9.95 at lunch, $11.95 at dinner) -- including curry and dumpling -- with a choice of spiciness: Plain, Mild, Regular, Hot and Danger. Additional toppings are $2. Brown rice is available at no extra charge. 

But the restaurant also offers about 20 other traditional Korean dishes, including pancakes, cold-noodle soups, bibimbap and japchae.

We had four tofu stews, ranging from "Mild" for my mother-in-law to "Danger" for my 14-year-old son, who dares Korean restaurants to make his food as spicy as possible. His Sprite cost $2.95.

Although the signature tofu stews are a couple of bucks more expensive than at nearby competitors, you receive seven free side dishes -- including a small, whole fish -- compared to four at other places. 

We also ordered a seafood-vegetable-tofu pancake ($9.95 small, $17.95 large) from the list of appetizers. 

We got our side dishes or panchan after we ordered.  The restaurant serves a deliciously spicy cabbage kimchi, but we didn't care for another version made with raw oysters.

My seafood tofu stew, which I ordered "Hot," was the spiciest I have ever had, and I gagged on the first few spoonfuls. It contained a large mussel, small clams and shrimp in the shell, and I broke a fresh egg into the bubbling broth to poach and eat with my brown rice.

The waitress explained later that our table was so full with stone bowls of stew, side dishes, water glasses and hot-tea cups she brought our rice in small metal bowls instead of the larger traditional stone bowls.

We liked all of the food, even the thick pancake, which glistened with oil but didn't taste greasy, but we could have done without the long wait for a table, the crowds and the noise.

We would have had plenty of food even without the small pancake. With seven side dishes, fresh egg and rice, this soft-tofu meal is a belly buster. 

It looks like the next time we hunger for soft tofu, we'll return to our favorite, So Gong Dong in Palisades Park, a smaller place where we rarely have to wait to be seated.

The first BCD Tofu House was opened in Los Angeles in 1996 and named after a Korean city, Buk-Chang-Dong. Today, there are 17, including restaurants in Korea, Japan, Southern California, Washington State, Manhattan and Fort Lee.

BCD Tofu House, 1640 Schlosser St., Fort Lee; 201-944-2340.
Open 7 days from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. 
No reservations taken. 

Web site: The House That Tofu Built

Veggie Heaven

Don't judge Veggie Heaven in Teaneck from its plain exterior or all the unused space inside.

If you're looking for a totally meatless meal, this is one of the few places in North Jersey to find it.

"Meat," "seafood" and "poultry" are made from bean curd, taro root, wheat gluten, mushrooms, yams and other vegetables.

We tried the Chinese-style vegetarian restaurant for takeout on Friday night, and liked most of the dishes we tried. The woman who took my order and seemed to be running the place said she is from Malaysia.

Veggie Heaven does best with straightforward vegetable dishes and curries, but not so well with seafood and meat substitutes. 

We loved the Seafood Okra Soup with Ginger ($7.95), which provided four small bowls of thick broth and crunchy, green okra. However, eight assorted dim sum ($6.50) were leaden and tasteless.

We also liked Dried Sauteed String Beans, another crunchy vegetable ($6.25 small, $7.95 large). And the sauce in the Curry Vegetarian Chicken was perfect spooned over white or brown rice ($6.95 small, $9.95 large).

But we all agreed the Crispy Vege Jumbo Shrimp ($13.95), described on the menu as "stir-fried soy shrimp," were pretty awful.

I stopped eating meat about two years ago, but the rest of the family still enjoys beef, poultry and other meat, so it's not surprising this was the first time we tried Veggie Heaven.

Veggie Heaven, 473 Cedar Lane, Teaneck; 
201-836-0887. Closed Mondays.

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