MORRIS COUNTY — If you are a true Korean food aficionado seeking out that exceptional Korean BBQ restaurant, you might want to take the 30–40-mile trip to Bergen County or NYC, where you will find some outstanding venues. Luckily, if you reside in the general Parsippany area, do yourself a favor and skip the trip, and the gas, as Keo Ku BBQ Restaurant, located in a small strip mall on Route 46 East, provides comparable dining and cultural adventure to those more renown locations.
Keo Ku BBQ, the first Korean restaurant in Parsippany opened its doors in 1993, owned and operated by the same family for the past 29 years. Current General Manager/Part Owner Brian Kim told me that his father, Jin Kim, and two Uncles, Seung Min and Mun are the initial owners of the restaurant, and now he has joined them to continue this great family business.
On further inquiry, the extremely personable and humble Brian K. explained, “My purpose is to bring authentic Korean food to our guests, offering true, traditional, high quality, fresh, and wholesome food while trying to avoid fusion dishes, which are common in many places. Of course, we offer several creative new dishes to accommodate all our customer’s tastes.” From my point of view, he could not have done a better job of meeting his goals.
The entire dinner, from our tantalizing appetizers, assorted banchan, sumptuous entrees, and a highly creative dessert, provided our entire foodie group with an exciting dining adventure. Our highly attentive and genial host, Brian K., took time from his busy day to patiently answer all our questions, explain each serving, and provide helpful recommendations on request. As well as being an exceptional meal, it proved to be an interesting and cultural educational experience enjoyed by everyone.
Keo Ku BBQ is situated on the side of a small strip mall off Route 46 East, just West of New Road. One must watch the easily visible, large red signage leading into the strip mall.
Once entering the attractive entrance, you are immediately impressed with the classy, casual, welcoming, and warm Asian atmosphere throughout the restaurant. It is immaculately clean and spacious, with beautifully arranged seating, decorative wooden partitions separating the rich-looking wooden tables, appointed with traditional Korean eating utensils called Sujeo (수저) (metal chopsticks and long-handled spoon). Unlike other Asian cultures, Koreans use metal chopsticks with squared ends, as opposed to the wooden ones we in the U.S. are familiar with. The interior is softly and comfortably lighted, with soothing-colored walls, furniture, floors, and adornments, perfectly complementing the thoughtfully laid out Korean décor and artifacts throughout the restaurant. You will even find a Koi Pond at the entrance to further enhance the cultural ambiance, along with an interior design reflective of an ethnic, traditional Korean atmosphere. A fun and friendly vibe permeate the entire dining area.
My group of six was comfortably seated in a rear section of the restaurant, set up with nice, large tables, with gas grills in the center of each table with an unobtrusive smoke vent overhead. Each table could easily accommodate 8 to 10 people.
As we perused and discussed the menu, deciding on our appetizers and entrees, we ordered some Terra and Kloud Malt beer (Korean Beers are usually light lagers) while discussing Korean food, culture, etiquette, and history with our knowledgeable host. Eventually, for our shared appetizers we decided on Panjeon 파전 (Scallion and Kimchi Pancakes), Soy Garlic and Spicy Goghujang (spicy red pepper paste) Chicken Wings, Scrambled Egg Korean Style (Gyeranjjim), and Japchae (Sweet Potato Glass Noodles Stir-Fried with Vegetables). The diversity of the tastes, textures, presentation, and aroma of the tangy, salty, sweet, spicy, and flavorful assortment of dishes was mouth-watering and were a tantalizing prelude to what was still to come. It was interesting and exciting to indulge in this satisfying and pleasurable dining experience.
Next out was the Banchan. Traditional Korean meals boast abundant side dishes, called Banchan, a term referring collectively to side dishes in Korean cuisine. Banchan accompanies every meal in Korea and can change daily based on the season, or on the meat or noodle dish you order.
As is tradition, our table was quickly presented with a generous assortment of those side dishes, which included Kimchi (김치), cabbage fermented in a brine of ginger, garlic, green onion, and chili pepper, and Korea’s National dish and served at nearly every Korean meal, assorted vegetables, pickled selections, seafood, bean sprouts, noodles, tofu, rice, dipping sauces and more, that are all part of banchan. Remember, banchan are not an appetizer, but small assorted dishes to complement the main meal.
While we were enjoying the apps and banchan, as well as the camaraderie of sharing this communal meal, our pleasant and accommodating server, Meerah Lee, began to oil and prepare the gas grill, located in the center of each table, for the continuing feast to come.
Meerah expertly prepared the Bulgogi, and accompanying vegetables (불고기). Bulgogi is thinly sliced lean and tender beef, marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sugar, green onions, and black pepper. Next came the Galbi (갈비), grilled beef short ribs, sliced a little thicker than bulgogi. Both meat selections were nicely marbled and were, tasty, juicy, tender, and melt-in-your-mouth savory. The balanced sweet and savory marinade enhanced each bite. As traditionally eaten, I wrapped the marinated meat, along with the gochugaru paste, in one of the large, fresh, crispy, lettuce leaves provided with the meal, and proceeded to eat them in one bite: Korean style. The crunchiness and toothsome texture of the lettuce, with the spicy bite of gochugaru, along with the umami savoriness of the marinated meat was delectable.
I should note that you can order and grill your own entrees if you prefer instead of allowing the Keo Ku staff to do it. I was informed that is the preference of some guests. As for our group, we were more than happy to let Meerah do her thing, and she did it well.
Not wanting to miss another popular Korean dish we ordered the Gopdol Bibimbap (비빔밥), mixed vegetables, ground beef, fried egg over crispy rice, and served in a hot stove bowl, and served with a dollop of chili pepper paste. Crunchy and luscious, spicy, and sweet, with pickled and fermented notes, delicious addition to the meal.
Despite being more than satiated, we could not pass on a special dessert prepared by our host and guide, Brian Kim. Koreans are particularly fond of chips, according to Mr. Kim, so with a little creativity came his Honey Buttered Chip Dessert, which went amazingly well when dipped into vanilla ice cream. Perfect ending to a perfect meal.
Korean food is not only delicious and full of flavor but also embedded in thousands of years of culture. Looking for your next dining adventure? Looking for an educational dining experience? Go no further than Keo Ku BBQ Restaurant.
Dine-in – Take-Out – Curbside Pickup – Reservations Accepted – Vegan Options
Private Parking Lot – Free Wi-Fi – Full Bar – Closed Mondays
Also on the Menu: Jeongols (Hot Pots) & Tang-Jjigae (Sours & Stews)
Keo Ku BBQ also offers catering and can accommodate private parties in their Hak (Crane) Room, a private dining room that can seat up to thirty-two people.
The Keo Ku Corner Bar is a bright open space that can accommodate up to forty seats and fifty-plus people for standing room.
Keo Ku Korean BBQ Restaurant (Keo Ku Jang) is located at 245 Route 46 East, Parsippany-Troy Hills. (973) 244-0032. Menu: KoreanbbqNewJersey.com.