Way back in December of 2009, I wasn’t alone in predicting the rise of Korean food in the national consciousness. Always the bridesmaid, but never the culinary bride, we were ready for a culinary love affair fueled by a passion for all things pickled and fermented (kimchi) and our collective ennui with Thai food (which has become all too ubiquitous). It was time for a spicy change.
So we waited. And waited. And just when we all figured that crave-worthy bibimbap was out of our reach, Tov Tofu opened its doors with the sizzle and pop we’d been hoping to hear.
The food is unapologetically and authentically Korean, focused on soft tofu soups and crackling stone bowls of rice, bbq and vegetables (bibimbap). Entrees include grilled short ribs and stir fried squid and octopus, along with Korean noodle soups and ox bone soups pepper the otherwise spare menu.
Banchan are a preview to the sweet, salty, briny, hot, tart flavors of the meal to come – two-bite bowls of kimchi, fish cakes, soy beans, cabbage, daikon and soy glazed potatoes meant for sharing. Like a personal bowl of rice, they’re part of the meal, so embrace their arrival.
Best Bets: Mung bean pancakes ($8.50); soft tofu ($9.95), a roiling, boiling pot of silken tofu with a combination of veggies and meats (try the combination with beef, shrimps and clams) all topped with raw egg (it cooks in the soup); bbq beef and vegetable bibimbap ($12.95) a surface-of-the-sun hot bowl filled with rice and a heap of goodies that pops, squeaks and steams a bit disconcertingly for several minutes (the prize is crunchy cooked rice at the bottom); Kal Bi (grilled beef short ribs).
If you’re new to Korean cuisine, don’t be a hero. Aim for mild or medium spice, because things can quickly go atomic. Bring a sense of adventure, as well. Korean dining can present some textures (gelatinous) and flavors (spicy, fermented, hot) that are challenging to newcomers, but quickly become part of your culinary repertoire. Oh, and enjoy the sanitary-wrapped spoons.
Charming red apron-ed staff are all too willing, however, to walk you through the menu and give helpful guidance as they rush across the dining room bringing plate after plate of hissing, steaming bowls to your fellow happy eaters.
Tov Tofu, 1169 Yulupa Ave (near Whole Foods), Santa Rosa, 566-9469. Open Tuesday through Sunday 11am to 2pm, 5-9pm. Closed Monday.Korean | Santa Rosa