Man, this week was freaking cold. My icebox, excuse me, my Edwardian
apartment was chilling me to the marrow. I can't believe I actually
had to go to bed with socks on. Wooly ones. I could do double duty
and turn this place into a meat locker, seriously. "Oh, hey, mister
cable man. Yeah, just move that side of beef aside and you'll find
the cable box. See, right there. Yeah, sorry about the smell."
It's in times like these when a space heater, mittens, earmuffs, and
a scarf (you're indoors, mind you) just don't cut it, and you have
to turn to some serious spice to warm yourself up (hey, you can't drink hot toddies all day, but you certainly can try). Hello Korean food. There is always the option to hit one of the Korean barbeque places and leave smelling like a campfire girl, but ~MY TOFU HOUSE~ is entirely another animal.
The place itself is actually quite chilly--bright lights, uncomfortable
seats, and kind of drafty. There's also a back room that is literally
Siberia--on the ambiance scale, I've seen waiting rooms at SF General with more
personality. And joy, whaddya know, a long line of people too!
(I know, I am really selling you on this space, huh!) But the tables
turn quickly so the line moves along; watch everyone's dining techniques
while you're waiting, because dinner will require some interaction. (Stand by for more.) The place is also packed with Koreans, from families to young hipsters to middle-aged guys having dinner together. That's about all the stamp of legitimacy I need.
The primary dish to order here is the soon dubu, the soft tofu
soup ($8.76--and what is up with that weirdo pricing?). The name "My Tofu House" is deceiving because it makes you think you'll be seeing a bunch of vegetariandishes, but in actuality, no sir. Four of the five soups have meat in them, like beef or pork and mushrooms; we tried the seafood version, with clams, shrimp, and oysters.
It comes out in this little stone bowl, boiling furiously like a witch's cauldron (hold the eye of newt, thanks). One can't help but wonder how many accidental soup-in-the-lap incidents have occurred over the years. Let's just say your nether regions would end up approximating a botched gender reassignment surgery--the soup is wicked hot. Anyway. You end up getting a separate bowl with an egg in it--as soon as your soup arrives, crack the egg into your bubbling little bowl and mix it in. The soup comes in not spicy, mild, medium, or spicy--medium hit the perfect note for me.
While your soup cools its jets, have fun sampling the pan chan, the small dishes of appetizing bites like cucumber, a small fried fish, bean sprouts, pickled daikon, kimchee, and tasty little sweet-salty fish--they were total fish candy. Munch munch. Don't be afraid--they were delish. If you end up demolishing some of the dishes, a server will ask you if you'd like moreâ¦ totally
gracious touch. Everyone working here was quite nice, in fact.They seemed happy to answer questions for the novices, so have no fear.
Another complimentary item that comes out with your order is a stone bowl
with rice, plus some peas in there too--your server will scoop it into a smaller bowl for you, and the rice that remains in the stone bowl gets quite crispy. Then a server will come back
and pour water into the stone bowl and put the lid on. Within moments the mini hot tub starts churning (pass the Courvoisier), and once it's done, you have a kind of smoky rice soup. Not for everyone, but definitely a funky little ritual.
The stone bowl makes another appearance with the bibimbop/bibimbap ($12.22, again, weirdo pricing scheme). The texture and flavors of this dish just rule: rice, nori, pickled vegetables, spinach, bean sprouts, beef (or you can order it with seafood, or mushrooms, or just tofu) and again, a raw egg that you mix in with the rice-a-rama. Fire-eaters can add hot sauce to the mix too. The stoneware bowl is so hot it crisps everything up and keeps it nice and toasty.
Scoop some out and place it on top of your bowl of white rice (I've also seen people scoop tofu out of their soup and place it on top of their rice).
Oh yeah, the soup. It's probably cooled down by now. Take a sip. Mmmm, hot and good and slightly fishy. (Don't touch that bowl, however. Just don't.) The tofu is tender and silky, and hey, there are some little morsels of the egg you cracked in, tasty. We found the prawns end up getting totally overcooked by the time the soup cools, so take them out and put them on your rice to save them from a death-by-boiling fate if you plan on eating them.
Two bowls of soup and one order of the bibimbap was more than plenty for two people--we got out of there with tip for $40, and totally stuffed. Other popular dishes are the kalbi (short ribs, $15.21) or the bulgogi (sliced rib eye, $13.37)--both come out on sizzling platters and smell heavenly. There's not much else on the menu. There really doesn't need to be. Oh, except beer. I really wanted a beer. No beer. You'll have to content yourself with tea or a soda. And for dessert, you get a slice of melon gum. Pay up, pop the complimentary gum into your mouth, and you're officially armed and toasty enough to head back out into the foggy SF night. Take no prisoners.