It took walking a lap or two around Jersey City’s Harborside Plaza before I finally found the entrance to ONDO, which, despite being housed in a building located on the Hudson River waterfront, has no actual view of the water. In fact, the entrance to the contemporary Korean restaurant faces a fenced-in parking lot on the opposite side. But while the restaurant might not stand out on the high-trafficked waterfront walkway, its modern interpretations of classic flavors and ingredients certainly do.
ONDO is not the place to go with a large party for traditional Korean barbecue or hot pot. (Head north to Palisades Park or Fort Lee for those.) Instead, you’ll find refined—and pricier—smaller-portioned plates better suited for the date-night crowd the restaurant seems to attract.
Take the mul-hweh. In this modernized version of the traditional spicy raw-fish soup, rolls of raw fluke, cucumber and daikon radish are served chilled in a bowl of tomato water so fresh, pure, and distinctly New Jersey that I couldn’t stop dreaming of it for weeks. Some might call this a fusion dish, with Jersey tomatoes meddling with a traditional Korean summer meal, but that would be downright dismissive of the level of attention to detail it requires to assemble. To make the tomato water, executive chef Yoon Suk Hong sources local tomatoes that he blends, strains, then chills overnight.
From Brian Kim and Jae Park of the highly acclaimed sushi bar DOMODOMO (with locations in Jersey City, Manhattan and Brooklyn), ONDO opened in April 2022, bringing a new caliber of Korean flavors to Jersey City—which, despite its recent restaurant renaissance, is something the city seemed to lack. “Some people are okay with regular Korean dishes, and some people want elevated Korean dishes,” says Kim, who aims to appeal to the latter. “I didn’t want to make [our menu] typical. Usually, with Korean dishes, one dish makes you full. …We tried to minimize that and make smaller portions, make it more approachable and presentable to the public.”
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ONDO, which means “temperature” in Korean, organizes its menu not by dish type or size, but by temperature: cold, warm or hot. To really experience the restaurant’s identity, it’s best to order a few things from each category.
In addition to the mul-hweh, other standout cold dishes include a decadent beef tartare with seaweed-dusted tapioca chips; a salad of fried tofu, broccolini and glazed pecans in a creamy, citrusy dressing; and a tart-tangy yellowtail crudo. Less enticing was the shrimp pine nut salad, featuring chilled shrimp plated with slivers of sweet Korean pear, texturally interesting yet flavorless lotus root, and a sweet, nutty dressing that seemed better suited for dessert.
The warm category, where the majority of dishes fall, is hit or miss. My dining companions and I loved the fish-roe rice with black cod, a tiny but texture-packed bowl of white rice, radish, cucumber and chives topped with a piece of ever-so-slightly grilled cod and two types of fish roe—ikura and tobiko—that created a sensation similar to that of eating Pop Rocks. For noodle lovers craving classic Korean heat, the spicy octopus pasta lives up to its name.
The mushroom rice was a little one-dimensional without the addition of spicy pork ($4), bulgogi ($4), uni ($20) or black truffle ($25). And, unfortunately, the spicy, twice-fried boneless chicken, while a quintessential and delicious Korean dish, wasn’t elevated to the level of other plates.
What would be considered traditional entrées can found in the hot section of the menu. Do not overlook the sharable galbi-jjim. Segments of the marinated short rib come perched atop the large rib, which acts as a sort of bridge over a delicious chestnut purée.
Just as shareable is the bossam, a classic braised pork belly dish, and the dry-aged rib eye (two-person serving). Both are served with a ssam platter—lettuce and pickled or fermented sides with spicy dipping sauces—that invite you to wrap the tender meat like a package in fresh greens and top it with the sauces and condiments of your choice.
The dessert menu is small, but it’s anything but an oversight. There are rotating flavors of soft serve, but if you’re going to order anything, make it the nurungji panna cotta. Scorched rice (known as Nurungji) is blended with heavy cream to create a chilled, creamy, nutty, and not-too-sweet end to your meal—and a return to the colder temperatures it began with.
HOW WE REVIEW: Restaurants are chosen for review at the sole discretion of the dining editor, based on input from our food writers and critics around the state. Our reviewers visit a restaurant at least twice, always maintaining anonymity to avoid preferential treatment. The reviewer brings up to three guests per visit and tastes everything that is ordered. NJM reimburses the reviewer for all food and beverage expenses. After the final visit, the reviewer conducts a phone interview with the chef, owner or other key members of the team. The review is then submitted to NJM and edited for clarity and fairness. Stars are assigned by the editor in consultation with the reviewer. As a final step, an NJM staffer checks the review for accuracy, always calling the restaurant to confirm all facts.
Four stars = extraordinary; three stars = excellent; two stars = very good; one star = good; half a star = fair.
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- Cuisine Type:Contemporary Korean
- Price Range:Moderate–Expensive
- Price Details:Entrées, $15-$52; desserts, $10-$15
- Service:Attentive and helpful, but not overbearing
- Wine list:Full bar; inventive cocktails, focused on Korean spirits; limited by-the-glass wines