Arry and I ate at this really good Korean Restaurant in San Francisco. I wrote a massive review in Yelp only to find that they don't support Korean text. Grrrrrr.
We shared the 육개장 ("yook-hwe-jang” - spicy beef stew/soup). And the 라뽁끼 (“ra-bokki” rice cake, and fish cake, and ramen noodles in spicy sauce).
Aside: I always get a little troubled when korean ji-gae (찌게) is translated as "soup". I think technically it is probably correct, but something about a hearty, hot, tummy-filling, soul replenishing ji-gae just doesn't classify as a soup in my mind. Stew might be more correct. Hot-pot is definitely wrong. Some languages have words that don't don't translate clearly from one word to another single word. And I think this is one of many of cases from Korean to English.
Anyways, this yook-hwe-jang (육개장) is AWESOME. It left me and my spouse blowing our noses at the end of it. And there was a person at a nearby table who was also blowing their nose at the end of their meal. That is a SIGN OF A GREAT KOREAN MEAL. It's so spicy and hearty, that despite the burn, you keep on going until there is nothing left. I personally like to put my 밮 (“bap", aka steamed rice) into the 육개장 to make it even MORE BETTER.
Translating 밮 is another one that sort of bugs the shit out of me. In korean, there is a word for uncooked rice. It is 쌀 (“ssal”). And the word for steamed, cooked rice, is 밮 (“bap”). Two totally different food objects. You would never have a meal with 쌀. Your meal has 밮. I never call what I eat rice because it is too in accurate, in other words, WRONG.
You will notice the 밮 they have is not white. It's still the same sticky consistency as it should be, but it's got extra healthy ingredients (wild rice) in there that gives it the color. I know this fact, because my mother likes to make the same extra healthy kind of 밮 that has beans and all kinds of stuff in there to make it more healthy.
The other bahn-chans where average, but the kimchi is great. And having good or bad kimchi can swing the rating of a restaurant up or down 50%. It is by far the most critical component of any Korean meal. EVER.
Their is always some Korean satellite tv going. I speculate that it's partially to contribute to the overall 분위기 (“boo-ni-gie” - atmosphere) of the restaurant. I bet it's mostly for the simple fact that the restaurant is literally a ma and pa shop. The husband and wife team are there ALL HOURS OF THE DAY AND NIGHT. Working. Work and yet more work. It’s virtually never ending. So in the few minutes of down time they have, they can watch a little tv and get micro-entertained. For the bilingual patrons, they can also also watch and get entertained.
The decorations are in Korean and sparse. Enough to let you know it's a Korean joint. But not so much time+money has been put into it because most Koreans just care about the food. No use in having a pretty restaurant if the food sucks. It’s fundamental and utilitarian. The place reminds of my a lot of the places I dined when I spent 5mo in seoul in 1994. Good food, good prices, in plain looking joints.
I'm not sure if it's always given, but you can ask for 보리차 (“boh-ri-cha” - barley hot tea). It is not as bitter as black tea, and again, very, very replenishing to the soul.
I think traditionally it's hard to find Korean restaurants like this in SF. It doesn't help that there aren't that many Koreans in the city. But when you can find 불고기 (“bulgogi”) at Costco and 신라면 "Shin ramen" and 너구리 “neoguri" at Safeway nowadays, there is a NEW DAWN IN THE RISE OF KOREAN FOOD AFOOT.
Overall probably more like 4.5 stars, so I rounded up.
On previous trips my wife has had the 갈비탕 ("gal-bi-tang", beef short rib stew/soup), 물냉면 (“mool-naeng-myun" chewy buckwheat soba noodle with vegetables and hard boiled egg) and she enjoyed them very much. She went with some GiftStarter comrades and they tried these various dishes and inhaled them all:
돌솥비빔밮 “dol-sot bi-bim-bap” - same as 비빔밮, but in a very hot stone pot
제육복음 “jae-yook bokkum” - port stir fry
해물파전 “hae-mool pa-jun” - seafood pancake (but i hate calling it a pancake)
김치복끔밮 “kim-chi bokkum-bap” - kimchi fried rice
Next time I will try another 찌게... maybe one of the triple crowns of 찌게… 김치찌게 !!
p.s. don't forget Kim's Little Round Crab Cakes as one of my personal all-time favorite dishes...