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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Eating out: Enjoying a Korean beef-and-shrimp feast around a wood-charcoal fire

A steaming egg souffle in a stone bowl is one of the complimentary side dishes served at So Moon Nan Jib, a popular Korean barbecue restaurant in Palisades Park.



When you walk into the dining room at So Moon Nan Jib, the faint but distinct smell of smoke is a sure sign of the Korean barbecue feast to come.

On Saturday, we were delighted to find not much has changed at the popular Korean barbecue restaurant since our last meal (in 2011), except the prices.

Me and my wife were served by a waitress we knew from past visits, and she was just as attentive, cooking our food over a wood-charcoal fire, serving us an array of complimentary side dishes and bringing us more when we finished one of them. 

Korean barbecue is a fun meal as you wrap your food in red-leaf lettuce, add rice, kimchi, garlic or all three, and stuff the package into your mouth.

The Korean kitchen is a cornucopia of colors, textures and flavors -- sweet, spicy, salty and vinegary.

Though I stopped eating meat years ago, we had dinner there last weekend, because my wife can choose beef or pork barbecue, and I can order shrimp.

To cook at a table with a wood-charcoal grill, you have to order a minimum of two barbecue entrees -- such as beef, pork, tongue, chicken breast or jumbo shrimp, each costing a minimum of $25.99.

We ordered Bulgogi, thin slices of marinated sirloin ($27.99, compared to $28.99 in 2011), and a dozen butterflied Jumbo Shrimp ($31.99, compared to $24.99 six years ago).

Using long metal tongs, an employee places two containers holding wood charcoal into the opening of your table before they are covered with a grill.
Bulgogi, top, and butterflied shrimp cook quickly over the hot wood charcoal, above and below.
Complimentary side dishes, which will be replenished if you ask for more, include cabbage kimchi, spicy raw skate wing, shredded and seasoned scallions for stuffing into your lettuce package, bean sprouts, shredded radish, a green salad, mushrooms and a dip for beef or shrimp barbecue, above and below.

Too much for two

This a lot of food for two -- and expensive -- even if you don't order a small appetizer, such as the translucent yam noodles called japchae ($7.99).

We did and took home leftovers, but with eight complimentary side dishes and rice, there is plenty of food for three or four people.

Ideally, you can wash down your lettuce packages with cold Korean beer or soju, a distilled alcoholic beverage made from rice or grain, though we stuck with the hot tea that comes with the meal.

Our dinner totaled $82, including tax and tip.

A small meatless portion of japchae -- translucent yam noodles with mushrooms, onions and sweet peppers -- was $7.99. 
I always thought this complimentary drink offered at the end of the meal contained sweetened yogurt, but ingredients listed include water, fructose corn syrup, sugar, skim-milk powder and glucose.
The dining room at So Moon Nan Jib.
Waiters and waitresses will do most of the cooking for you.
So Moon Nan Jib has been packing them in for about 20 years.


So Moon Nan Jib, 238 Broad Ave., Palisades Park; 1-201-944-3998. Korean barbecue, sushi and sashimi.

Open 7 days. Liquor license. Valet parking behind restaurant, and street parking with meters that accept credit cards.

Our previous visits

For the last 5 years or so, the meat eaters in my family have been making Korean barbecue at home, using thinly sliced, grass-fed filet mignon from Australia that we buy at ShopRite, and a stove-top grill that straddles two burners.

Here is what we ate on our last visit to So Moon Nan Jib in 2011: