Before today, when this Montclair Patch editor thought of Korean food, she mostly thought of kimchi, the pickled cabbage that's a staple in the country. She also thought of the noodles that a friend once mentioned represent long life in Korea, which is why they are almost always served on holidays, weddings and birthdays.
But after a trip to Koreander—the new "fusion" restaurant offering a mix of Korean and Japanese food at the corner of Watchung and North Fullerton avenues—she's going to be thinking about Korean food a whole lot more and in many different ways.
Korean food has been slower to gain the traction of many other Asian cuisines. But that's started to change. In recent years, Korean restaurants that have popped up mostly in New York and and in other large cities have begun winning legions of fans.
Koreander is sure to do the same.
The restaurant is small, simple, and unpretentious—but the menu and the food speak volumes.
Just like at Japanese restaurants, there are "bento boxes"—called simply lunch boxes at Koreander—that come with miso soup, rice, four pieces of sushi, and salad. But instead of chicken teriyaki there are main dishes with names such as "kalbi"—two-inch-long short ribs—and "jeyuk"—small bits of pork. These range in price from $9.99 to $12.99.
A friend, who thought the miso soup was a bit heavy on the scallions, tried the kalbi box and raved about the short ribs, saying they were packed with flavor.
Also for lunch are a lot of items with the name "bulgogi" in them. There is a bulgogi burger for $7.99, a bulgogi taco for $5.99, and a bulgogi dog for $3.99. So what is bulgogi? It's a marinated and grilled meat. The beef in the bulgogi taco, for example, was so tender it almost melted in your mouth. And one $5.99 taco was very filling.
Diners have a choice of four sauces on all bibimbap—or mixed rice—orders: hot pepper sauce, olive oil, sweet soy sauce, and house special ginseng sauce.
The menu boasts a wide variety of dinner options as well, including chapchae—thin sweet potato noodles stir fried in sesame oil with beef and thinly sliced vegetables—for $14.99, and bibimbap—steamed rice topped with assorted vegetables, marinated beef, and a special spicy sauce—for $11.99.
All in all, the food is flavorful and different—which is a good thing—and the service is fast. The only downside is that the restaurant currently accepts cash only and that it just offers yogurt for dessert. (There is a Bubble Tea for $4.95 on the menu as well as smoothies.)
But perhaps desserts will be added in the future.
After all, Koreander only opened late last month in the space formerly occupied by Orbis and then QBA, A Cuban Kitchen.
After QBA was forced to close late last year when owner Lynna Martinez was unable to find a financial backer, people were pleased to see signs in the building's windows announcing that a restaurant called Koreander was coming soon.
From the looks of the packed dining room at lunchtime, people are still pleased.
Has anyone tried this place? What did you think? Let us know in the comments section below.
Koreander Fusion Restaurant
128 Watchung Avenue
Montclair, NJ 07043
Hours of Operation:
Monday to Thursday
11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday
11 am. to 10 p.m.