By Ethan Chung ’18
There are few things in which I have expertise, and Korean Barbeque is one of them. If you ever wish to experience some of the best Korean food—barbeque included—I, a Korean American well-versed in the world of Korean cuisine, highly recommend a restaurant called Chung Dam Dong.
It is well worth the trip to New Jersey’s Koreatown in Palisades Park to have a taste of authentic Korean food done right. There are plenty of other great Korean Barbecue places in the Fort Lee/Palisades Park Koreatown area, but the quality of meat and the banchan (the included side dishes) are what make Chung Dam Dong stand out.
Whenever eating out is an option, I always push for this restaurant. I get excited every time I see the waitress bring the circular tray of raw meats bathing in a sweet and savory marinade of sesame oil and soy sauce. The platter contains a surplus of short rib pieces, thinly sliced so they can soak up as much succulent marinade as they can and also cook faster on the grill that awaits.
The waitress places the raw short rib pieces on the grill, built into the table, so you can enjoy the smell and the sounds of the choice cuts before you have the honor of tasting them. Once cooked, the waitress uses her metal tongs to hand-deliver the pieces of short rib, or “kalbi,” to your plate.
Unlike some other Korean restaurants, Chung Dam Dong’s kalbi is not served with the attached bones, making the process of quickly devouring the beef right as it leaves the grill very easy. Some like to eat the kalbi by wrapping it in lettuce. I, on the other hand, think that doing so is too time consuming; therefore, I choose to enjoy my kalbi with rice and the restaurant’s homemade ssamjang, a mixture of miso paste and red chili paste.
When you bite into each piece of short rib, it almost falls apart in your mouth; it’s that tender and delicate. Chung Dam Dong doesn’t serve the sad version of Korean barbeque involving tough, chewy pieces of meat where you have to maneuver your way around the remaining bones and fat. No, this restaurant provides exquisite morsels of well-marbled short rib that pack a sweet, savory, and umami-filled punch, leaving you wanting more.
But it’s not just kalbi that Chung Dam Dong does right. I always look forward to the banchan, the free side dishes that provide you with a colorful array of small bites to keep you occupied when waiting for your entrée—think of banchan as a more plentiful amuse-bouche. The selection of included banchan dishes always changes. In the many times I’ve dined at Chung Dang Dong, some of the more memorable banchan plates include fried mackerel, steamed egg, fried chicken, fried tofu, porridge, kimchi, and fishcake.
At Chung Dang Dong, I’ve never had to place a reservation or wait too long to be seated, as service is fast and space is ample. The wait staff are all very kind and are always willing to throw in a free bowl of rice or extra servings of a banchan dish you particularly enjoyed. Make the trip to this restaurant in Palisades Park and you will leave with a warm sense of comfort that only excellent homemade food can give you.