Korean: the food of the moment

There are usually two types of “foodies.”  There are those who salivate at the thought of a gourmet European meal that’s artfullly prepared and presented in the middle of a large plain white plate.  Rich sauces of wine, butter, garlic, or all three, dominate.  They’re pretty to look at and decadent to eat.

Then there are those who love the ethnic hole-in-the-wall joints.  There’s no decor or ambience to speak of.  Service is a luxury, not a right.  And you can usually get a good meal for two for under 25 bucks.  The food is authentic, no frills, and delicious the way a homemade family meal would be.  It is without pretention.

I sit between the two camps.  I’m an equal opportunity foodie.  I like my fill of both depending on my mood, and frankly, my budget.

I seem to go through food phases.  A few years ago it was Italian.  Then I went through my French food phase.  And last year I was very into regional northern Chinese fare.  And though I still absolutely love all these foods, this year, it’s Korean.

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Like I wrote about in a previous post, I am a huge fan of the traditional tofu stew.  If you’re a fan of new and interesting food experiences, I highly suggest trying it.  It’s a sight to behold with all the banchan they serve with your meal and all the different colors and flavors.

My favorite place is the Tofu House along El Camino Real in Palo Alto, but I’ve also discovered the Tofu Cabin in San Mateo in the Marina mini-mall along Norfolk.  The place has really improved in recent months, and it’s usually packed at 7pm most nights.

If you’re in the mood for tofu stew like I usually am, go for the Seafood, Kimchee, or Combo stews.  Most of the others can border on bland, but those three are very tasty indeed.  And unlike Tofu House in P.A. (where they have a very limited menu), they have some very tasty traditional Korean dishes like a spicy stirfried squid dish (ojing uh duk bok um), a seafood pancake dish (hae mool pa jun), and the classic Korean rice bowl with veggies, optional meat, and an egg on top (bibimbob). 

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They also broil a mean plate of marinated short ribs.  If you have the appetite, order the tofu stew + 1/2 order of gal bee (short rib) combo.  You won’t be disappointed.  Those short ribs are tender and delicious.

Some of the waitstaff can be awfully slow and irritatingly ditsy, but the owners are extremely friendly and helpful when you need it.  Fortunately, most of the time they’re the ones taking your order.

I have honestly enjoyed every meal I’ve ever had here.  If I want to drive down to Palo Alto to Tofu House, I’m guaranteed the best tofu stew I’ll ever have.  But if I want a good, well rounded Korean meal (including tofu stew), you could do a hell of a lot worse than the Tofu Cabin.

Tofu Cabin - 2968 S. Norfolk St. @ E. Hillsdale Blvd. – San Mateo – 650.524.1484

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