The first time my family went to Chung Dam Dong (청담동) we left unsatisfied. We had ordered a bulgogi jungol (불고기전골, barbecued beef soup similar to sukiyaki) type of thing even though everyone at the restaurant was eating some sort of spicy stir-fry at the table. Not sure what we were thinking actually. I think we did so to appease a non-pork eating person in the group, but at the end no one was happy. Not even the non-pork eater. The jungol was a compromise in every which way including taste. Banchan (반찬, small sides) had been great, but great banchan can only get you so far (at max, fifteen minutes of happiness). Still, we kept hearing good things about the restaurant, and noticed while other restaurants along Broad Avenue were going out of business, Chung Dam Dong was going strong. Another visit was in order, and then another just to be sure. The verdict? Undeniably delicious as long as you order right.
Banchan at Chung Dam Dong is the best I’ve had in New York and New Jersey for quantity and quality. Assortment varies per day, but banchan is always fresh and more inventive than at other restaurants. Here, instead of the regular namool (나물, assorted vegetables), you may get mashed pumpkin, galbi jun (갈비전, pancake made with short rib meat) skewers, and my favorite: deep fried dried pollack (북어, booguh) marinated in spicy sweet sauce. It’s salty, sweet, and spicy with a lot of crunch.
Excuse the red sauce smeared plate. I assure you presentation is better at Chung Dam Dong. I happen to have eaten a few pieces before taking the picture. The fried pollack banchan is seriously irresistible. Refills on the pollack is always a must for me.
Along with the banchan, either biji jiage (mashed soy bean stew, 비지찌개) or denjang jigae (fermented soybean stew, 된장찌개) or possibly both will be served gratis. Keep this in mind when ordering.
As I mentioned, the first time my family and I went to Chung Dam Dong, we noticed everyone was having some sort of spicy stir-fry at the table. Chung Dam Dong specializes in chulpan (철판, cast-iron pan) dishes. The bulgogi jungol we had the first time at the restaurant is also served in the chulpan, but don’t order that. Bulgogi jungol doesn’t take full advantage of the hot cast-iron pan. Saucy is better than soupy. You’ll see why later in this post.
In addition, there is only one gas grill per table at the restaurant so if you want barbecue (galbi, bulgogi, etc.) in addition to stir-fry, either eat the meat first and then move on to the stir-fry or have them cook the beef in the kitchen. Trust me; the stir-fry will taste better this way. If barbecue is more of a priority for you, I would say go somewhere else.
The Squid and Pork Belly (오징어 삼겹 철판 볶음; $35.99) is currently my favorite stir-fry dish at Chung Dam Dong. Squid, pork belly, onions, and rice cake is marinated in a sweet and spicy gochujang (고추장, red pepper paste) based sauce, topped with lots of fresh watercress, and then brought to the table in a cast-iron pan and placed on a gas grill. Squid and pork belly is a great match because while the squid is lean, the pork belly brings the fat. It’s a good balance. If you prefer octopus over squid, there’s another version with octopus, but I prefer squid. Octopus can be blander and tougher.
After eating most of the squid and pork belly, you may be the sad thinking the meal is coming to an end; especially when the meat, onions, and sauce have reduced down to a wonderful fiery concoction. Well fear not, because none of that sauce will go wasted. The waitress will come over with rice, soy bean sprouts, kimchi, and roasted seaweed, and whip up a mean fried rice with the remaining stir-fry. And if you’re patient enough to wait a few minutes after the waitress leaves, you’ll be rewarded with some crunchy rice (nooroongji, 누룽지) at the bottom of the hot cast-iron pan. It’ll be good without the crunchy rice also, but why settle for good when you can have great?
The Squid and Pork Belly Stir-Fry will serve around three people. The servers at Chung Dam Dong may tell you it serves two, but with two people I left with leftovers. Remember, banchan is plentiful, and at least one stew is served in the course of the meal on the house. With three people it’s perfect. And by perfect I mean on the brink of explosion and quite satisfied. The best way to leave any restaurant.
Chung Dam Dong (청담동)
118 Broad Ave, 2nd Floor (b/n W Edsall & W Harwood Ave; map)
Palisades Park, NJ 07650