Dana and I decided to make a trip to Koreatown the weekend before rehearsals for the Ren Faire started since we knew we wouldn't be able to do something again until after Faire was over in November, especially as I primarily work Sundays for my regular job. I had mentioned I wanted to go back to have Korean BBQ at Jongro. I had been there last November for lunch before going to a concert, but I did not have Korean BBQ at that time.
We made the drive into Newark Airport where we hopped on the train into the city. Getting off at Penn Station was perfect, as we were only a couple blocks away from the restaurant. Koreatown is definitely a place I want to go to again and again, but sadly traffic was not kind to us so by the time we got to park and get on the train, we didn't actually get to Jongro until close to 2 pm. Two of my friends, Mars and Barbara, who live in New York met up with us to join us for lunch.
Jongro is actually a chain of Korean BBQ places in South Korea, though I did not go to any of them while I was in Korea over Christmas. This location in New York was the first American location opened when they expanded overseas.
We were seated pretty quickly when we arrived and given water, which is a staple. One thing you can guarantee in restaurants in Korea even is getting water. Both Mars and Barbara got lychee soju cocktails, Dana got Terra, a Korean beer, and I got Kloud, which is a Korean pilsner. This definitely shocked Dana as I am not a beer drinker. The closest I have gotten to drinking a type of beer that I enjoy is makgeolli, a Korean rice beer, as well as a sour by Smuttynose Brewery. Both Mars and Barbara said their drinks were delicious. Dana and I both enjoyed our beers and Kloud will be one I'll have again.
For our meal, we ordered the beef platter, which contained kalbi, prime ribeye, beef thin skirt, and beef brisket. All platters come with a soup, either a spicy tofu soup, or bean paste stew. We got the spicy tofu soup. In addition to the soup, every platter comes with a variety of banchan, which are small side dishes that are served at pretty much every Korean meal and are free. You do not have to get rice, but you can ask for it and it is also free. In addition to the beef platter, we also had assorted mushrooms for grilling.
We also got some japchae (잡채), which is a savory and slightly sweet dish made of glass noodles and vegetables. There is an option at Jongro to have it with seafood or beef for an extra charge, but we just had the vegetables. We also got a seafood pancake (해물전) to share. A Korean pancake is mostly made from green onions with egg and flour, with the seafood pancake including mostly shrimp and squid, but it can also have octopus or clams. If seafood isn't your thing, you can try their kimchi pancake too.
Overall, I was a little bit disappointed. The experience, for the most part, was great. Great company and I did enjoy the soup and the japchae. The BBQ itself wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. The meat wasn't marinated at all, which I don't think it was when I was in Korea either, but the meat had that flavor to it like it was the cheapest cuts they could get. This made us a little sad, as we were hoping for a really good experience. We wondered a bit if it was due to Jongro being a chain, rather than a single-owned restaurant, or something else. Maybe it was an off day?
The mushrooms were delicious, though we were disappointed that they placed the enoki along the side of the grill closest to the heat instead of closer to the top to cook. Because of how thin they are naturally, most of them essentially melted onto the grill. The japchae was good, I thought, but also not great. The seafood pancake was also good, but I admit it was not as good as when I had it in November. I'm not sure if the restaurant was just having an off day or what, but it was disappointing overall for the price. Now do not get me wrong, the food was not *bad*, we still enjoyed it. I'd like to try again some other time myself, but Dana and I both kind of agree that when we go back, we want to try one of the other Korean BBQ restaurants in Koreatown rather than Jongro.
A fun time with friends was had and a fun experience, but a bit disappointed in the quality of the food. I look forward to trying other places in Koreatown to see if it can match the experience I had in Korea.