Bwok! Hey, wanna go check out the chicken garage? Of course you do. Numerous folks (some of them chefs) have told me about ~TOYOSE~, a kooky late-night Korean restaurant that's in a converted garage. No joke. With killer chicken wings. That's enough to raise at least one of my eyebrows with intrigue.
So, I finally schlepped my heinie to the Outer Sunset to check it out. In fact, it was the scene for this year's Single's Scene Valentine's Day Dinner with my friends. Really, what more do you need on Valentine's Day than the opportunity to scarf Korean bar food with your fellow single pals in a converted garage with a table full of beer and soju? After one bite of the chicken wings, you will agree--much better than a box of chocolates.
Our wait for a table was unexpectedly short, in fact, by the time they called us, I didn't even get to finish my beer at the oddly well-lit Flanahan's Pub across the street. Damn, because a few of the buzzed locals perched at the bar were about to share some good stories, I could tell. (There was a table with empty pizza boxes and uneaten birthday cake in the corner, a sure sign of a party train.) Anyway, the norm at Toyose is a long-ass wait, especially as it grows late, so don't let my luck make you think you're going to be able to just breeze on in. They take reservations--I recommend them.
The restaurant really is in a garage, filled with a series of booths and intimate tables, complete with roll-down blinds at some of them in case you really want to be undercover (as if dining in a garage in the Outer Sunset isn't undercover enough). Since the joint is open late, the blinds could actually come in really handy to cover your messy and/or cheatin' and/or Witness Protection Program self up.
I totally missed the fact that our table was supposed to have a button to ring for service--I didn't see one at our table, although a friend swears there are service buttons. Oh well, next time. No wonder we felt like we were in Siberia.
Besides the remiss service, and not much English being spoken nor understood, the waitresses hustling hard between all the tables of drinking posses of friends were actually quite nice--just short on time. The vibe is rowdy and assuredly soju-fueled, so don't bring a first date or your mother here. Some folks were definitely on their way to needing a fix-it ticket--I can only imagine the scene as the night goes on. I guess that's when the sausage and vegetables in tomato ketchup ($8.95) gets consumed.
So, the star of the menu was the chicken wings ($12.95)--they were perfectly crispy and featured a little hit o' spice (almost as addictive as San Tung's). Poof, gone! The springy texture and savory flavor of the home-style kimchi pancake ($10.95) made our table want to order another. The potato croquettes ($8.95) were also really well executed. All great food to share.
The mains didn't quite hold up, like the baby octopus and vegetable spicy noodle dish ($12.95) that in actuality didn't have that much octopus. We also tried the codfish with vegetables and tofu hot pot ($14.95)--fine for a cold night, but not what I'd call a benchmark hot pot. The pork shoulder ($16.95) was served chilled in slices--the mild terrine-like flavor perked up with the dipping sauces, but this was not a dish that got finished at our table.
In the future, I'm going to just stick with the deep-fried numbers and try more house favorites. I think the trick is to treat the place like a late-night joint with food that's built to eat over beer and soju--because that's what it is. I could also imagine it being a smoky clubhouse for a bunch of card-playing gangsters, but I don't think I'd be invited to those poker nights--I'm on a different team (too many vowels in my last name). Who knows, maybe that's how the place got started.
With a soundtrack of bouncy Korean pop over the clamor of loud tables of boozin' friends, a price that was easy on the wallet, the late hours, the groovy island village décor, and the novelty factor of its original use, yup, this is my kind of parking garage.
3814 Noriega St.
Cross: 45th Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94122