Monday, November 15, 2010

To Hyang in San Francisco

Discovering Home-style Korean Food
3815 Geary Blvd. (at 2nd), San Francisco
Inner Richmond
PH: 415.668.8186
Open Tue.–Sun., 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Reservations for large parties, major credit cards accepted

There are some cuisines that I enjoy but am still learning more about. Korean is one of them. My knowledge of Korean food is limited to BBQ chicken and bibimbap (which, BTW, is one of my favorite things to say, next to baba ganoush).

So in trying to expand my palate for Korean food, I ventured to a small restaurant on Geary Boulevard called To Hyang. Despite having a non-descript entrance, this is a place that has been written up a bit by local reviewers.

Opened about two years ago, To Hyang is a family restaurant headed by Hwa-Soon Im, who does all the cooking. Her daughter works the front and her grandchildren, well, they’re just every where. The tiny spot looks like a hole-in-the-wall that was pretty quiet on the weeknight that I visited (it’s also a bit stuffy on this unseasonably warm San Francisco night).

Joining me was my friend Ken, who was willing to give Korean food a try. We started the night with a carafe of soju, which is a Korean rice wine that Im infuses with various flavors such as fig and cucumber. We decided to try one made with quince because it sounded perfect for fall.

Side note: To Hyang also serves a roasted barley tea, which I’ve never tried before. Since I was mostly drinking the soju, I didn’t taste the tea until near the end of the meal. It was a bitter, dark tea that I didn’t really enjoy.

For our food, we looked over the extensive menu, which had a variety of meat and fish dishes. After ordering three entrees to share, the traditional starter plates known as panchan came to our table. The seven tiny plates are complimentary, and gave us something to munch on as we drank the soju.

Most of the panchan were pickled or preserved vegetables, including the ubiquitous kim chi. Ken and I enjoyed most of them, even those that we couldn’t identify.

Then our main dishes arrived, starting with the Ojinguh Muchim, or squid with vegetables in a tangy spicy sauce ($12.99). The dish was listed on the menu as one that’s served cold, which I thought would be good since it was a warm night outside. But the dish was actually still warm, but it was still good with lots of tender squid pieces and a sweet and spicy sauce that was on the mild side.

Ken is a vegetarian who also eats seafood, so we also ordered the Gahjaemi Chorim, or whole flounder with vegetables and tofu ($15.99). We didn’t notice that the menu said it was served in a tangy spicy sauce, which, you guessed it, was pretty much the same sweet spicy sauce that came with the squid. The platter was huge with the flounder served on the bone, but the meat easily came off the bone. The tofu was OK but I felt the vegetables were a bit overcooked.

Our last dish was actually more for me since Ken doesn’t eat meat. I wanted to try one of Im’s specialties and I’ve read this is either the pork belly salad or the oxtail stew. Since I didn’t feel up for the fattiness of pork belly, I ordered the oxtail stew or So Kori Chim ($18.99).

This Korean braised oxtail stew is made in a sweet pickled sauce that reminded me a lot of the Chinese’s pickled pig’s feet dish. Both dishes are served with a boiled egg, but the So Kori Chim gets a boost of sweetness from the dates added to the braising liquid. The stew also included big chunks of carrots and daikon, which were cooked tender.

I enjoyed the tender meat of the oxtail, which easily fell off the bone. But it’s not a dish that you can eat a lot of just because after awhile the sweetness will be too much, IMHO.

These Korean dishes were definitely different than what I’d normally order, so it was an interesting experience and the style of the preparation from Im seemed like you were visiting a friend’s home for dinner. There’s plenty of food and the presentation isn’t pretentious at all.

To Hyang offers up some decent Korean food with nice flavors and friendly service, but I don’t know if the food necessarily excited me. I think maybe more spiciness and less sugar might give the food more balance. But To Hyang is a nice first step in my introduction to Korean cuisine.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (Comfort food)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

To Hyang on Urbanspoon


Kim said...

The food in Korea was amazing! I think you should try Dong Baek in the Tenderloin. (In fact, it's adjacent to my apartment building.) I'm the only Caucasian I've ever seen there. Good sign!

Chubbypanda said...

For me, it's all about the panchan side dishes. Gimme a bunch of those and a big bowl of rice, and I'm a happy panda.

Hungry Dog said...

I've driven by this place, and now am intrigued. The food sounds very interesting to me!

stephen said...

What I love the most from Korean cuisine is the super-spicy side dish.

Single Guy Ben said...

I agree, the panchan is the star of the meal most times, including here at To Hyang.

Carolyn Jung said...

I love oxtail. You remind me that's it's high time I make a batch for winter to enjoy.

Cooking on a Dime said...

I love the photos! I am a little new to Korean cuisine myself.