A delightful new BYO in
Collegeville, Bonjung Japanese Restaurant, takes its name from
the Japanese words for "real" or "original," bon, and
"heart and affection," jung. Housed in a former
train-station warehouse with a corrugated roof and towering
ceilings, Bonjung is spacious by Japanese restaurant standards.
Partly because it's designed
to resemble a teahouse, the 89-seat restaurant is visually
soothing with interesting details such as a door made of bare
sticks and a large kimono spread wide on a wall.
In some ways, this is Japan
Owner Gregory Shin, a former
computer engineer who opened his first culinary venture in
March, hopes to round out Bonjung's authentic cultural appeal by
offering events such as Japanese cooking classes, origami
demonstrations, and tea ceremonies. The first cooking class is
scheduled for April 25.
Bonjung's cuisine is certainly
authentic, especially with its focus on the sushi bar, where the
specials - New Zealand red snapper and bluefin, on a recent
night - typically reflect the whims and refined sensibility of
expert sushi chef Yonemoto-san.
He is particularly adept at
handling the sushi mainstays - tuna, salmon and crabmeat -
without serving anything standard or Americanized. That's not as
easy as it sounds - even sushi is no longer the instant
crowd-pleaser in this era of grocery store rolls and ubiquitous
The kitchen offerings tend to
stay close to the kimono, so to speak.
In other words, there's
nothing here you haven't seen before, including the classic "i"
dishes: hibachi and teriyaki. But these, too, are prepared with
studious care and avoid the usual pitfalls - the grilled items
being too dry, and teriyaki sauce too salty.
The chicken hibachi I sampled
was served with three dipping sauces - a sweet type of vinegar,
a bold ginger, and a doctored version of bottled Japanese hot
sauce - that helped to enliven the meal with different tastes.
There is also tempura, another
case study in Japanese artistry. The selection is small (four
entrees) but shows off the kitchen's skills in flash-frying.
Judging from such tempura
items as soft-shell crab and lobster tail, I suspect that an old
boot could be tossed in the pan and it would still turn out with
a feather-light crunch.
What makes Bonjung stand out
from the other Japanese, Pan-Asian and Asian fusion restaurants
and the ethnic-cocktail eateries that have popped up in recent
years in the suburbs?
It's not necessarily the
handful of Korean specialties offered; they're not even
identified on the menu.
Again, in keeping with
Bonjung's quick-to-please atmosphere, there's nothing strange or
outrageous, no Korean fermented vegetables, red-hot stews, and
Instead, the most popular and
well-known dishes are served, including the classically named bi
bim bap, a Korean-style casserole made with different stir-fried
vegetables, meats, rice and hot sauce all mixed in together.
Bonjung is different partly
because its large size and smooth operations (the service is
quick and pleasant) give the impression that there's a large
crew behind the scenes.
At the same time, it has the
intimacy of many BYOs and family-owned establishments.
Considering its focus on fresh
fish and seafood - and securing a sushi chef to prepare it -
Bonjung is dependent on contacts.
Shin has them - through his
brother, Leo, who has owned and managed a string of Japanese
restaurants in Philadelphia.
Gregory Shin also runs the
place with the help of his wife, Christine, an interior
designer, and his sister-in-law Junee, who managed restaurants
The Korean touches here,
including the displays of chocolate in clay pots in the back
dining area, reflect their background as Korean natives.
One last thing: Japan doesn't
really recognize many desserts - a sliced orange is a common
offering - but Bonjung serves what might be described as the
real sweets that the Japanese keep for themselves.
That includes Yakan, or sweet
red bean jelly, and Mochi ice cream, a bonbon-like treat made of
ice cream wrapped in rice dough.
It's incredibly sweet, but
real and original.
Bonjung Japanese Restaurant
50 W. Third Ave., Collegeville
Phone: 610-489-7022. Web:
Hours: Monday through
Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and 4:30 to 9:30
p.m. for dinner; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and
4:30 to 10:30 p.m. for dinner; Sunday, dinner only, 3 to 9 p.m.
The menu: This
family-owned BYO serves authentic Japanese cuisine, with some
Korean specialties. (The owner, Gregory Shin, is Korean.) In
addition, there's a 10-seat sushi bar that serves specialty
rolls and an extensive sushi and sashimi (sliced raw fish with
dipping sauce) menu. Bonjung also has takeout and outdoor
dining. Hibachi is offered, but without the floor show; the
hibachi grill is in the kitchen.
I'll have another:
Housed in a converted train station and warehouse, Bonjung is
quite large by Japanese restaurant standards. Similarly, it has
a fairly broad and diverse menu, with many offerings perfect for
sharing, such as shrimp tempura, dumplings, and grilled and
skewered appetizers. The entrees include noodle dishes, rice
bowls, seafood specialty rolls, and vegetarian fare as well as
traditional Japanese dishes including "hot pots" and katsu, or
cutlets with special sauce.
Can't decide? Try one of the
special combo dinners, described as an "exciting Japanese tray."
It includes several Asian-style culinary hits, including a
California roll, tempura, and the popular teriyaki. Save room
for dessert; among the selections are fried bananas with
homemade ice cream (enough for two) and Korean chocolate -
unavailable elsewhere, Shin says. (He is planning to be your
How much: Appetizers,
$4.50 (edamame, or soybeans) to $10.50 (seven pieces of
sashimi); entrees, $11.50 (steamed rice with toppings) to $29 ("sho"
combo dinner). All major credit cards are accepted.
maintains a peaceful and reserved atmosphere.
Reservations: The place
has been open only since March, but it's already drawing crowds.
Reservations are recommended on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Children's menu: Yes,
although you might want to leave the kids at home. With
Bonjung's elegant and contemporary setting, you might have more
fun without them.
Smoking: Not allowed.
Facilities for handicapped: