For eight years I passed the turquoise sign of My Tofu House without noticing it — until I met Mi Ryung Song, a willowy, flute-playing administrator at the San Francisco Symphony. As often happens, conversation turned to food, specifically Korean restaurants, and Mi Ryung told me she liked the soft tofu at My Tofu House. That's all it took for me to join the nightly line waiting for one of the boothlike, partitioned-off tables in the very popular little restaurant.
My Tofu House specializes in a single dish, soondoobu ($9.45), a chili-reddened brothy stew of silken tofu that comes with various combinations of ingredients — mushrooms, pork, beef, chicken, vegetables, kimchee and ramen. It is delivered to the table boiling hot in earthenware bowls perched on wooden platforms. The diner breaks a raw egg into the stew and stirs it with chopsticks, which makes the broth creamy and smooths out the chili.
At first bite, I was struck by the stew’s depth and balance — elegant, really. Then I threw down my chopsticks and grabbed a long-handled spoon, always a part of the Korean place setting, and devoured the whole bowl. What a revelation!
There are nine different versions of soondoobu at My Tofu House. My favorite, fish egg soft tofu, incorporates big hunks of firm, meaty fish roe and clams. The roe, rich but light, stands up to the peppery broth. I also adored dumpling soft tofu, savory meat-filled noodles and pearly balls of sticky rice flour.
One of my guests stared longingly at his empty bowl of original soft tofu with beef and mushrooms, commenting that he’d never liked tofu before. Soondoobu at My Tofu House causes these culinary conversions.
For the intransigent, the restaurant offers another category of Korean dish, bibimbab ($13.59) — literally a heavy, stoneware bowl of rice, radiantly hot from the oven, topped with different bits of meats and vegetables, an egg yolk and a dollop of red chili paste.
Again, you mix the whole thing together with chopsticks or the long handled spoon, to create a moist, incendiary, fried ricelike concoction. The reward at the bottom of the bowl is a layer of crusty rice, called nooroongee, crisped by contact with the heated stoneware bowl.
Pork bibimbab brings a particularly delicious combination of spicy barbecued pork with spinach, lily buds, mushrooms, carrots and other vegetables.
My Tofu House makes another tasty nontofu dish: thinly sliced chili-infused broiled pork called daeji bulgoki ($14.29), heaped on a bed of onions sizzling on a hot metal platter.
All the dishes — soft tofu, bibimbab and barbecued pork — are meant to be eaten with an assortment of little accompaniments: cooling hunks of Japanese cucumber marinated in rice wine vinegar; cleanly dressed bean sprouts; tiny, chewy, marinated dried anchovies; kimchee-preserved cabbage redolent of chile and garlic; cubes of pungent chile-reddened daikon pickle; shredded daikon with clams and chile; and small, whole, fried kingfish, deliciously salty. You nibble these condiments along with the meal, to alternately cool or excite the tongue.
For dessert, a stick of melon-flavored gum brought with the check miraculously refreshes the palate.
The food at My Tofu House leaves no hangover, not only because the restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, but because the cooking shows such equilibrium. Now the cheery turquoise sign of My Tofu House has become a welcome beacon, luring me in for one more bowl of soondoobu.
MY TOFU HOUSE
Location: 4627 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
Contact: (415) 750-1818
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Friday; 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday
Price range: $3.92 to $17.05; most dishes either $9.45 or $13.59
Recommended dishes: Soft tofu, fish egg soft tofu, dumpling soft tofu; pork stoneware bibimbab, daeji bulgoki
Credit cards: Visa and MasterCard
Reservations: Not accepted
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