Monday, November 3, 2014

We give in to primal instincts, gathering around a fire to eat

Bulgogi, thin slices of beef sirloin, grilling on our table at So Moon Nan Jip in Palisades Park, one of the few Korean barbecue restaurants still using charcoal, below.

We ordered one portion of beef and another of shrimp to grill over the charcoal and eat wrapped in lettuce. The grate was changed after the meat eaters in my family finished the beef.


You can smell the charcoal in the air when you enter the dining room of So Moon Nan Jip in Palisades Park.

Before I stopped eating meat and poultry, we loved going to this popular Korean barbecue restaurant, where you can grill beef, pork, chicken or shrimp on a tabletop grill and eat them wrapped in lettuce.

An array of side dishes, including a fluffy egg souffle, and rice turn this fun meal into a true belly buster.

Late Sunday afternoon, we returned to So Moon Nan Jip, knowing we could order beef for the meat eaters in the family and shrimp for me.

The servers make up one of hardest working restaurant staffs in Palisades Park, and they help you grill the barbecue as well as bring you more kimchi and other side dishes when they run out (you have to ask).

We were in an out of there in under an hour.

A spicy preparation of octopus was one of the half-dozen side dishes that came with our barbecue meal. To grill on the table, the restaurant requires you to order two portions, ranging from $25.99 for chicken breast to $33.99 for ribeye steak.

Vegetable pancakes.

Wilted greens.

Charcoal smoke and mirrors

As I expected, prices have gone up since I wrote a newspaper review of So Moon Nan Jip in 2005, describing it as one of the restaurants in North Jersey where four people could eat for $50, including tip and tax:

"If you eat barbecue the way Koreans do, the fun quotient is high. Just take the red-leaf lettuce and wrap meat dipped in bean paste, shredded scallions, raw garlic, rice and other items into a small ball and pop the whole thing into your mouth. The layers of hot and cold, and the contrasting textures and flavors are hard to beat."

One thing that hasn't changed are waitresses who will try to get you to order more than the minimum two portions of barbecue.

And the number of free side dishes has been cut; we didn't get soup or the whole fried, 6-inch whiting we were served in 2005, when portions of barbecue were under $20 each.

On Sunday, we ordered bulgogi ($31.99) and butterflied raw shrimp ($27.99), and at the insistence of our ravenous teenager, a plate of translucent yam-flour noodles called japchae ($17.99) and another of mixed beef and pork fried dumplings ($14.99).

I had a bottle of OB Beer ($5).

The quality of the beef barbecue is unclear; it is sliced thinly and marinated. But as to quantity, I'm guessing the portion doesn't weigh a half-pound.

A side dish of American-style potato salad.

Cabbage kimchi.

One of the best Korean egg souffles I've ever had.

Raw butterflied shrimp.

Better value elsewhere

In the years we didn't patronize So Moon Nan Jip, we found much better value in a filling Korean dinner at So Gong Dong, a couple of blocks away on the second floor of 118 Broad Ave.

There, you can order a steaming soft-tofu stew with a fresh egg, side dishes and a big stone bowl of white rice for $10, including the tax.

The popular tofu house also serves dumplings, a seafood pancake and barbecue, among other dishes.

At So Moon Nan Jip, a tangle of seasoned scallions and radish to wrap in lettuce with the barbecue. We didn't get the raw garlic served to Korean customers.

So Moon Nan Jip has 7 Grains, a combination of brown rices and beans, if you prefer that to white rice.

A pricey platter of fried dumplings.

No reservations are taken on weekends at So Moon Nan Jip, above and below.

So Moon Nan Jip, 238 Broad Ave., Palisades Park; 201-944-3998. Valet parking in rear lot, but you must tip $1.

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