|Mukeunji Korean Restaurant (Photo credit: Pabo76)|
Editor's note: Today, I discuss eating out alone, a promotion at Whole Foods Market in Paramus and the closing of Fuddruckers.
Eating out alone has never been fun, though I tolerated it more when I was young and foolish, and traveled extensively.
While I've occasionally found another lone diner to share my table, eating out alone almost always guarantees poor treatment in restaurants -- you usually get the worst or smallest tables.
On Saturday night, with my family away for the weekend, I wasn't sure where I wanted to eat, but decided to stop at Yamagata, the first new Japanese restaurant to open in Fort Lee in many years.
Yamagata is in a strip mall off Palisade Avenue, in the space once occupied by Moon Jar, Chef Ji's Moon Jar and It's Greek To Me, which moved down the street to a larger space. I've eaten in all of the predecessors.
When I walked in, I expected to be greeted by a host near the door, but Chef Yama and another chef working behind the sushi bar nodded to me.
For some reason, the host is positioned at the rear of the small dining room, which was nearly full. I asked to see the menu. I looked at some appetizers and sushi combinations and they seemed pricey.
I noticed one seat open at the small sushi bar, and figured that was where I would be seated, not at one of the free tables for two.
I picked up a flier advertising a Yamagata lunch special for $14.50, including soup, salad and ice cream. I asked the host what happens if the customer doesn't eat ice cream.
"There's no deduction. We give the ice cream for free," he said. How about fruit? I asked. No fruit, he said. I left in search of a warmer place.
The Tea Bar
In the same mall, I saw The Tea Bar, a Korean cafe and restaurant that opened where the popular Coffee Tree Cafe once operated.The menu in the window listed tofu and vegetable dishes, in addition to lots of beef-and-kimchi combos.
I got back into the car and drove to Broad Avenue in Leonia, turning left toward Palisades Park. After I crossed the border, I noticed new Korean restaurants and shops on a street that seems to be constantly changing.
Muk Eun Ji
I was looking for Muk Eun Ji (also written Mukeunji), a Korean barbecue restaurant that tries to stand out from the crowd by offering reasonable prices and 1-year-old cabbage kimchi imported from South Korea.
Even though I was alone, the hostess seated me near the front of the restaurant at a table for four. A wooden box held metal chopsticks and spoons.
Soft-tofu stews are $9.99 each, with rice, seven free side dishes and an egg souffle. Nine versions of a rice-based dish called bibimbap are served, from $9.99 to $14.99.
This is the first Korean restaurant I've seen that lists the weight of one order of barbecue (one-half pound), starting at a low $9.99 for one portion (sliced pork belly).
To cook on the table, a minimum of two orders is required. Shrimp also is available, though not listed.
The old kimci, called Mukeunji, is available for $3.99, but it is also used in some of the stews, such as the soft-tofu and kimchi stew I ordered ($9.99).
The wonderful panchan or side dishes included fresh cabbage kimchi, white radish kimchi, tiny shrimp in their crunchy shells, potato salad with mayo, bean sprouts, stewed tofu and preserved radish. I asked for more stewed tofu and fresh kimchi.
I also asked for brown rice, which was closer to black with small black beans, though the portion wasn't as big as the white rice served at So Gong Dong and other soft-tofu houses.
My tofu stew was spicy and tasted tangy from the 1-year-old kimchi. But I couldn't finish the stew and took some of it home in a small container. Once reheated, it made the perfect snack.
Mukeunji gave me just what I needed when eating alone: a warm welcome and lots of good food at a reasonable price.
Mukeunji Korean Restaurant, 217 Broad Ave., Palisades Park;
201-363-0600. Open every day from 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
I drove over to Whole Foods in Paramus on Saturday afternoon and found dozens of drivers searching for a parking space -- as if the store was giving away organic food.
Shoppers were blowing horns and cutting off other cars. I turned around and went home.
I have until March 23 to use an American Express credit-card promotion giving me $10 off a $50 order.
At Fuddruckers headquarters in Texas, a woman in the franchise department said the shuttered Paramus restaurant is not expected to reopen.
She said the franchisee had lost his lease after more than 20 years at the location on Route 4. The other half of the building houses Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which is still open.