Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sundays, 12:30 to 11 p.m.
Atmosphere: Serenely Oriental.
Price range: Entrees, $3.50 to $14.95; complete family dinners, $7.95 a person (Chinese), $9.95 to $10.95 (international).
Reservations: Recommended for parties of six or more.
Credit cards: American Express, Bankamericard, MasterCard.
Special facilities: Ample parking lot; highchairs and booster seats; wheelchair access (one small step at entry).
If you knew nothing about Paradise East, you might pass it by. Its appearance (that of a reformed Pizza Hut) and its name (suggesting the seamier side streets of Shanghai) do not suggest a good meal. But the simple decor inside the restaurant is far more tasteful than outside: the restful browns and golds and the papered window screens give one a sense of a place that, like Korea itself, lies somewhere between Japan and China.
The menu lists a couple of dozen Chinese dishes (along the lines of moo shi pork and kang pao chicken) and half a dozen Japanese dishes. But it seemed clear to us that, as the menu is printed in both English and Korean, one would be wise to order Korean.
The Korean menu features beef, pork, and chicken dishes, and leans more toward sweet, spicy and pickled dishes than do some other Oriental cuisines. Following the advice of our waitress, we sampled a variety of flavors. Bul-go-gi, thin slices of beef marinated in a soy-sesame sauce ($10.95), was very good despite being rather gristly and difficult to chew, a major flaw in the eyes of a 10-year-old.
Another time we would probably order bul-kal-bi ($10.50), short ribs marinated in the same sauce, or similarly marinated sliced pork or beef shish kebab dishes prepared to varying degrees of spiciness.
Chop chae ($5.95), a combination of stir-fried strips of beef, vegetables and "potato noodles" (cellophane noodles to us), was short on beef and tasted bland to the grownups, but not to our gristle-hating daughter. She refused even to taste nak-ki-bokum ($7.95), a stir-fried baby octopus with hot and spicy sauce, which we ordered from the more exotic end of the menu. Chunks of octopus served with vegetables in a tomato-colored sauce proved to be the ultimate chewy dish (which we rather enjoy), but was not very spicy.
The menu also offers cocktails and both imported and domestic wines and beers.
While we waited for our main courses, the waitress brought us an order of mandoo--plump, pan-fried Korean meat dumplings ($3.50 for 6) that disappeared in a flash. She also brought two Korean appetizers, on the house: kim chee, a spicy pickled cabbage dish that is a refreshing but strongly flavored staple of the Korean diet, and an unusual and very tasty order of a sweet, deep-fried fish that tasted remarkably like a variation of the crisp, glazed bananas often served for dessert in Chinese restaurants. Although the fish was so bony that one of us nearly choked (who expects a candied fish to have bones in it?), this interesting dish was otherwise the highlight of our meal.
Although some of the dishes at Paradise East don't stand up to close criticism, our overall impression was quite favorable, partly because the atmosphere and staff are so pleasant and partly because the sauces are interesting enough to perk up obviously inexpensive cuts of meat.
Paradise East is a nice place in which to venture into an interesting Oriental cuisine that features many dishes acceptable to a Western child.
Our bill for dinner for three, including two beers, was $34.08 with tax and tip.