The first time I ate at Organic Tofu House, there weren't any customers besides my mom and myself. I blamed the lack of tofu-loving diners on the blizzard that had blanketed the streets in a thick blanket of fluffy, frozen rain bits, thus preventing any cars from moving at a speed higher than "sloth."
However, when I visited again last Tuesday with my mom, my brother Bert, and Tristan, it was still semi-deserted. There was just one customer in the restaurant before us and no more had come in during our meal. It was a little late at the time—around 8:15 PM—and maybe restaurants aren't hopping on Tuesday nights, but I now fear that Organic Tofu House isn't getting enough business (a telling sign was the notice put up in their window within the past few weeks saying they would no longer be open on Sundays), which would suck most heinously because it is my closest source of Korean tofu stew and I need my Korean tofu stew, oh god, how I need those chunks of soybean curds.
For those of you who don't know (which is probably most of you as I don't believe the North Jersey food blog readership is massive), Ridgewood has loads of restaurants covering a surprisingly diverse range of cuisines. Don't forget that we're in suburban New Jersey, not Manhattan. I can think of five Japanese restaurants that I've eaten at (two of them being on the same block), three Thai restaurants, a Chinese restaurant (with dim sum), Greek, Lebanese, French, Turkish, Indian, Italian, pancake house, three (or probably more) pizzerias, four ice cream shops, and more, mostly all within walking distance of each other. But as far as I know, there was no Korean presentation until Organic Tofu House took the place of what was previously a Japanese restaurant, hence my possibly strange over-excitement when my mom told me that a tofu place had opened up.
First, you have your banchan of four small dishes and a salad. The first time I went we were given kim chi, chilled steamed broccoli and cauliflower, soybean sprouts, and tiny dried fish. The second time, the dried fish was replaced with julienned potato sticks (chilled after being stir-fried, perhaps?). Our banchan was refilled during the second visit without us asking since there were four of us instead of two, and the waitress (who I assume is the wife of the husband-wife team that runs the restaurant, but I could be wrong) must have thought we could more food after we had devoured the first round of banchan. Which wasn't necessarily true–god knows we had enough food, but we certainly weren't going to refuse more delicious stuff that was free. Also, I need all the vegetables I can get.
I liked how the kim chi was presented in a neat little stack instead of a messy pile. Not that there's anything wrong with a messy pile—I know it tastes the same both ways—but there's something more satisfying about pulling the layers away from the stack. Kind of like the difference between the levels of fun had while eating Pringles versus a regular bag of chips. Something about plucking those molded potato goop wafers off a uniform stack creates more endorphins than sticking your hand in a greasy bag of non-uniformly shaped chips. It's just human nature.
The hubcap-sized seafood pancake was generously stuffed with tender squid chunks, whole shrimp, and a bucket of green onions. I usually look at flour and egg as the main binding agents in pajeon, but in this case it was green onion. Everywhere. Compared to the other pajeons I had eaten in my life (three, perhaps), this was the best for its explosion of green onions and seafood. Isn't that what everyone wants? An explosion of green onions and seafood? Yeah!
Goon mandu are dumplings that are fried all around for 1080° (I didn't think 360° was a sufficient amount) golden crispiness. Underneath the delicate, semi-translucent skin was a belly of minced pork and stuff. Something vegetal in nature. But it was mostly pork. Definitely a good thing.
The star of the meal is the miniature cauldron of soft tofu curds bubbling away in a spicy tear-inducing soup mixed with a smattering of an additional ingredient of your choice: soybean, mushroom, seafood and beef, seafood, kim chi, oyster, clam, beef, or pork. You can also just get it plain, which might be the best way to go considering how stomach-achingly full this will make you (which also has to do with the accompanying bowl of purple rice you will inevitably demolish in its entirety). Then again, the dish costs the same whether you get it with or without something extra; why not incorporate more pork?
Actually, I preferred the kim chi to the pork. Yes, I awarded a higher ranking to fermented cabbage than bits of what is accurately referred to as "The Meat of Kings." I found that the pork flavor was too overpowering, which sounds kind of dumb considering that the other flavors were tofu (more of a texture than a flavor) and hot hot spicy mucus-running hotness (a rather strong flavor). Why wouldn't pork fit in? I DON'T KNOW. IT'S JUST THE WAY MY TASTE BUDS WORK. OR MALFUNCTION.
Raw eggs are served with the tofu stews in case you want to crack one in. As long as you mix it in, the heat of the soup will cook the egg. No salmonella for you.
Although I didn't grow up eating tofu stew, it has all the makings of comfort food. It's hot, filling, and doesn't require much chewing. And you eat it with a spoon! The most magical utensil! Because it has two o's in it!
They also have a selection of non-tofu dishes in case you're like my brother and find the idea of eating tofu as a meal completely inadequate. My brother ordered the BBQ bulgogi deubap, steamed rice with marinated beef. They also have broiled eel, pork marinated in spicy sauce, beef short rib, broiled squid, stir-fried vermicelli noodles, and something called well-being rice, written as "young ya bab" in Korean. Is this more magical than normal rice? One of you must know the answer.
Go to Organic Tofu House now! If it closes due to lack of business, I will cry and blame it on YOU NOT FOLLOWING MY DIRECTIONS!
Organic Tofu House
88 Godwin Ave
Ridgewood, NJ 07450