Gangnam Tofu in El Cerrito has lots of Style

I just got back from a fabulous dinner. I had Korean food with my BFF in El Cerrito. She was introducing me to Gangnam Tofu for the first time. We went for an early dinner after spending the day hiking and geocaching in the area.

We were lucky that we didn’t have a wait since there was room for the two of us at the counter. I consider my BFF my food twin as we typically like the same things and can easily agree on menu items.

Like other Korean restaurants, we received a series of banchan. Unlike other Korean restaurants, I’ve never had one with eggplant. It was also the most delicious one! If we didn’t order so much food, I would’ve requested another serving of the eggplant.

We ordered the Soon-Doo-Boo which is the soft tofu stew. This dish comes in nine varieties. We ordered the original Soon-Doo-Boo with pork. It comes with a raw egg to crack into the bubbling stew. I enjoyed the medium spiced tofu stew and consider it one of the Korean dishes that defines comfort especially when you add a little white rice.


I can never resist fried chicken and wanted to give it a shot. They have nine types of fried chicken and we agreed to have the original which is the dry kind. It was crispy and finger licking good. Our half order was cut up into seven similarly sized pieces. This makes perfect sense so the fry time is the same and makes for juicy pieces including the white meat.

We also ordered the Beef Dol Sop Bop which is marinated beef and vegetables over rice that is cooked in a hot stone bowl. The veggies included carrots, spinach, zucchini, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and green onions. It was also topped with a fried egg. As I mixed everything together, I could hear the sizzling. I was impressed by the cook of the rice in the stone bowl as it left a full even layer of crispy rice on the bottom.

I was also impressed with the customer service at Gangnam Tofu. The staff are extremely friendly and we were asked on several occasions whether we needed anything, a first time for me at any Asian restaurant. Even with all the Korean food options in Oakland, I left the restaurant thinking about my next meal here.

Advertisements

Noodle Theory Provisions: Oodles of Noodles

Noodle Theory Provisions is an Asian fusion noodle shop that opened a few months ago in North Oakland. It borders the City of Emeryville and is a haven for noodle lovers like me. Noodle Theory Provisions is chef/owner Louis Kao’s second restaurant after many years committed to Noodle Theory on Claremont Avenue. I have dined at Noodle Theory Provisions (Provisions) twice since it opened and the food has been impressive both times.
On the appetizer list, I wanted to be healthy and tried the seaweed tofu salad with bean sprouts and mung bean noodles. This cold noodle dish pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed the cold appetizer and found it refreshing especially for a warm day. I may even try replicating this dish this summer.
Provisions has a list of soup noodles as well as saucy and sautéed noodles. The soup noodle bowl I enjoyed was the grilled Niman Ranch spicy pork loin ramen in a peanut lime cilantro broth. For some funny reason, the bowl brought back fond childhood memories of eating Top Ramen at home with leftover pork chop. Of course this tasted a million times better, but the comfort felt the same.

On one occasion, I had the Panko crusted Cod over warm ginger scallion noodles. Ginger and scallion produce two of my favorite flavors and together it creates the perfect harmony for the noodles to sing in. With that said, the cod was slightly overcooked and left me a little disappointed.  

After eating the grilled Korean marinated short rib over a kimchee chow mein the first time, I ordered it again on my second visit. I will probably have it on every future visit because it’s so good. I mean, who doesn’t love Korean BBQ short ribs? It is a perfect combination with the spicy and tangy kimchee noodles. I often see kimchee fried rice, but kimchee noodles is genius.  

On my second visit, I had dessert which was the Calamansi Lime Icebox Pie. The extreme cold and creaminess gave it the feel of a frozen ice cream, and the citrus flavor and graham cracker crust reminded me of a key lime pie. The blackberry sauce added another dimension. I was amazed at how delicious this was.  

If you are a noodle fan, check out Noodle Theory or Noodle Theory Provisions.  

A Bold Bowl of Bibimbap

Bibimbap is a signature Korean dish that I love eating as much as I love saying out loud. Pronounced bee-beem-bahp, it means “mixed rice” in Korean. The dish is commonly prepared with a mix of assorted vegetables, rice, an egg, and some form of sliced meat. Although many Korean restaurants serve this dish as part of their full menu, it is a specialty at Bowl’d on Solano Avenue in Albany.  

On a recent visit to Bowl’d with a friend, we ordered bibimbap. Here are some instructions to prepare you for your visit. First off, you need to decide if you want it cold or hot. The hot one is called Dolsot Bibimbap, prepared in hot stoneware, and costs extra. This is the way I like it because I enjoy the sound of the sizzle when you mix the ingredients and the sauce hits the stoneware. Also, when you reach the bottom, you will get browned crunchy rice pieces.  

Next you need to choose your protein. Your choices are beef (bulgogi), chicken, pork, and pork belly. The chicken and pork belly has the options of ordering spicy. For an additional charge, higher end protein options of beef short ribs (kalbi) and salmon are available. Vegetarians have an option of mung bean pancake or tofu. 

At Bowl’d you are also given the option of white or mixed grain rice. Mixed grain consists of a mixture of barley, sweet brown rice, wild red rice, sweet rice, and black rice.  

I ordered the Dolsot Bimbimbap with bulgogi and white rice. The best way to eat it is to add some spicy chili paste, break up the over easy egg, and mix all the ingredients thoroughly. The dish came with assorted banchan or Korean side dishes.   
 I wanted to try the Bowl’d wings or Korean Fried Chicken (KFC). The KFC are deep fried chicken wings cooked in a sweet and tangy chili sauce. They came out piping hot, crispy, and flavorful. All I can say is that they were finger lickin’ good. 
 I love noodles so I take most opportunities to eat them. My favorite Korean noodles are the clear glass noodles made from sweet potato starch. We ordered the veggie Jhap Chae which are prepared with these noodles and stir fried with mushrooms, julienned carrots, onions, and sesame oil. I love the chewy texture of the noodles alongside the fresh cooked vegetables. 
 Bowl’d in Albany is part of a family of Korean restaurants in the East Bay. They also have Bowl’d BBQ and Oghane in Oakland and Spoon in Berkeley. Spoon is a Korean bistro where I previously wrote about their excellent brunch.    

Spooning Up Korean Brunch in Berkeley

Every time I make my way to Berkeley Bowl West to go grocery shopping, I pass by a restaurant called Spoon Korean Bistro. Each time I pass it, I become intrigued. Today I asked my sister and BFF if they wanted to have brunch at Spoon and then go grocery shopping. They both agreed.

The menu at Spoon was interesting because it had items that I had never experienced at other Korean restaurants. For instance, I have never had Korean porridge. Spoon’s version is made with rice, quinoa, mung bean, and milk. If you order porridge, you get the side dishes or banchan and you get a choice of an add-on that gets cooked into the porridge. We chose mushrooms. The porridge was thick and creamy, a cross between jook or Chinese rice porridge and oatmeal. It felt very comforting to eat and the mushrooms added a distinct flavor and texture.
IMG_1323.JPG
Another “new to me” dish were the kimchi pancakes. They were mild in spice and crispy. I thought these were really good and a great choice for a brunch item.
IMG_1322.JPG
My BFF requested we get the glazed potatoes which were deep fried potatoes in a sweet glaze. If you order these potatoes, you are warned there is a 7 minute wait. These came out piping hot and were both crisp and sweet on the outside. It almost felt like I was having a dessert.
IMG_1325.JPG
We also ordered the appetizer size veggie jhap chae. Jhap chae is a dish made up of sweet potato glass noodles stir fried with vegetables including mushrooms, carrots, onions, and sesame oil. I always enjoy eating jhap chae and this one was not any different.
IMG_1321.JPG
We didn’t order anything with meat, so decided to go with the Korean BBQ beef short ribs. We devoured these as well. The BBQ flavor was tasty and they were grilled well.
IMG_1324.JPG
We enjoyed Spoon very much. We got to eat outside and enjoy the nice weather, the service was great, and the food was authentic and delicious. I recommend brunch at Spoon and then grocery shopping afterwards. Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry!

Fusebox: Thinking Outside the Box

20130623-230155.jpg

Located in an Industrial area in West Oakland, Fusebox is a small Fusion restaurant with a blend of mostly Korean and Japanese foods. Fusebox is one of my BFF’s new favorite places and I found out why when I took her for a belated birthday dinner on Friday.

We were first offered a couple of free items: a small bowl of Asian flavored popcorn and a small cup of mushroom consommé. It was a nice way to start our meal.
20130623-230218.jpg
Our first real bite was the bacon mochi which is what I was looking forward to having seen some photos. The crisp salty bacon is wrapped around the slightly sweet chewy mochi. It was delightful.
20130623-230248.jpg
We ordered several skewers. The first two were grilled eggplant and miso flavored green beans. These tiny skewers were simple and delicious.
20130623-230317.jpg
The grilled shishito peppers came out next. These were a little bitter and not my favorite.
20130623-230353.jpg
We ordered two of the corns. They were grilled and flavored with butter and peppers. These were outstanding and reminded me of eating Mexican street corn.
20130623-230421.jpg
We were debating over the FuseBOX KFC (Korean fried chicken) or the Chicken Karaage (Japanese fried chicken). The waitress recommended the KFC so went ahead and ordered those. The chicken wings had a perfectly crisp coating and the flavor had an amazing spice.
20130623-230448.jpg
We shared the fish entree which was an air dried boneless Rainbow Trout. This beautiful filet tasted as good as it looked. It came with some seaweed which added a nice touch of salt to each bite.
20130623-230513.jpg
Their entrees come with a bowl of rice as well as Banchans, little Korean side dishes including homemade kimchi. I enjoyed them and did not feel overwhelmed like at many other Korean restaurants.
20130623-230601.jpg
We orders two desserts. The first one was the Tang Granita Creamsicle. The flavor brought back wonderful childhood memories of eating Creamsicles. This was quite light as well.
20130623-230642.jpg
We also shared the beignets. We aren’t in New Orleans, but their kitchen put up a good fight. Their beignets are made to order so they were piping hot. I rate these fried bread balls fairly high because they were not oily.
20130623-230707.jpg
Most of the food at Fusebox is small, but packs simple tasty flavors. It is also a fun place to enjoy a variety of different foods. I can’t wait to go back.

Dan Sung Sa: For the Young and Hip

There is a stretch of Telegraph Avenue between West Grand Avenue and West MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland that I refer to as “Korea-town”. I occasionally shop at Koreana Plaza, the Korean grocery store. I don’t tend to eat at the Korean restaurants on Telegraph Avenue because it is a sketchy area. My BFF introduced me to one of those restaurants, Dan Sung Sa and I had to write about it.

Korean tacos became popular several years ago and it helped launched the food truck scene. Our first appetizer at Dan Sung Sa serves Korean nachos. Tortilla chips were topped on a bed of lettuce and essentially smothered with Korean beef (bulgogi) and nacho cheese. The bulgogi had a sweet flavor and mixed with the savory chips and cheese was amazing. It was gourmet junk food at its finest.

20130310-225143.jpg
One of my favorite Korean dishes is Bi Bim Bap which is a rice dish cooked in a stone pot with meat and vegetables. Cooking in the stone pot leaves a layer of crispy rice at the bottom that I love to eat. It had beef, mushrooms, cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts, and an over easy egg on top. This version of Bi Bim Bap was probably the best I have ever had because of the freshness and simplicity of the ingredients.

20130310-225222.jpg
We ordered spicy chicken wings which were likely deep fried with a thick layer of sauce. The waiter told us it was a popular dish. They were very flavorful and without rice, I could not eat more than three pieces.

20130310-225257.jpg
Our last dish was chicken gizzards. The dish was stir-fried with onions, peppers, carrots, and jalapeños. The texture of the gizzards was both chewy and crunchy. I enjoyed them, but probably not a dish for the masses.

20130310-225325.jpg
Dan Sung Sa screams young Asian hip. They stay open until 2am so if you are hungry after a night out of dancing, Dan Sung Sa is a great option. Unless they card me for being too old, I will be back to try some other options.

20130310-225354.jpg

Revel in Seattle

20120527-174450.jpg

My last meal on this trip to the Pacific Northwest was brunch at a trendy place called Revel in Seattle. It’s about three miles away from Downtown in an area called Fremont. Revel serves Korean fusion food. My friend and I sat at the kitchen counter where food was also being plated. This gave us a great view of the chefs in action.

20120527-174619.jpg
I wasn’t planning to have a cocktail, but the Kimchi Bloody Mary was calling to me. I asked the waitress what she thought of it and she said it was really good. Why not? It was my last day of vacation. It was a pretty drink that came with an olive and Chinese long beans. The drink was lined with Korean chili powder as well. I’m glad I had it because it was really tasty and packed a punch.

20120527-174511.jpg
My friend and I decided to share two dishes. I ordered the Revel ramen with pork belly and kimchi. The ramen had a good consistency, the pork belly was sliced thin and melts in your mouth, the kimchi was a good balance of spice, and the broth was flavorful and comforting. It also came with a perfect soft boiled egg.

20120527-174904.jpg
My friend ordered the short ribs and eggs, arugula, chimichurri, and rice. I was watching the chefs throw marinated short ribs on the grill and slice them. I also had a great view of them constantly fry up perfect pairs of eggs in pans. I was anxiously awaiting this rice bowl. The flavor of the beef was spot on and the runny yolk mixed with the rice sent me home. I thought the chimichurri sauce gave it a pretty green color as well as a hint of tartness. It also had me thinking rice and beef make for a good breakfast.

20120527-175012.jpg
After traveling for a week, this was such a great meal to end my vacation. Revel transcends Asian comfort food into hip and cool.