Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Casserole House in Oakland

Korean Soup for a Chilly Night
4301 Telegraph Ave. (at 43rd), Oakland
Temescal neighborhood
PH: 510.601.6001
Open Mon.-–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sun., 4–10 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

So I’ve mentioned how I live near a lot of Korean restaurants, and I’ve been slowly educating myself about Korean cuisine.

One restaurant in my neighborhood is simply called Casserole House, which doesn’t really sound Korean but I’m sure the Korean characters in the sign probably calls it something else. And Casserole House is on the same block as the popular Sahn Maru, which I reviewed earlier this year.

I remember walking past Casserole House on my way to Sahn Maru and noticing how it was more busy. But when I visited Casserole House, I realized it was because it’s half the size of Sahn Maru. Still, it has a cozier feel with décor that’s more homey and stylish than the open utilitarian feel of Sahn Maru.

Casserole House also seems like it’s run by only two women because they’re the only two I see when I’ve dined there. I mention it only because that means the service can sometimes feel lacking when the restaurant fills up. The women aren’t as engaging because they’re just busy bussing the tables.

As for the menu, you definitely find more casseroles than any other place, along with a nice variety of hot and cold dishes, noodles dishes, and Korean BBQ. Because this is called the Casserole House, I wanted to order a casserole. But my waitress wouldn’t let me, discouraging me from ordering from the dozen of choices because she said they’re designed for two. Drats! Discrimination against the Single Guy once again.

The waitress recommended I try the tofu soups, or soon, which she says is the same as the casseroles except more suitable for one. So basically the “casseroles” are just the Korean soups.

Disappointed, I defaulted to my typical Korean food choice, which is BBQ. So I ordered the daeji bulgogi ($14.95), which is thinly sliced pork but it’s actually broiled instead of barbequed.

Before my bulgogi arrived, the parade of panchan of Korean side dishes started to arrive. What I find unique about Casserole House is they start with an egg pancake that totally blew my mind. It was the texture of this simple pancake that I totally enjoyed, a crispy edge that made me ignore the slight shimmer of oil. I think the ingredients included potatoes and scallions, but I can’t say for sure. Anyone know what it’s called? Because this is my favorite Korean food to eat.

Then came other small dishes, but I felt the other panchan at Casserole House was pretty pedestrian. They were the typical bean sprouts, kim chee, steamed broccoli, marinated potatoes, and dried tiny fish. There were a lot of plates, just nothing exciting like the pancake.

When my daeji bulgogi arrived, it was a large platter of thinly sliced pork, but the texture looked weird, like it was covered with powder. But it was just the house spicy sauce. The flavor was just OK, nothing spectacular, but I appreciated how the pork was so thinly sliced. I just wish the sauce was more juicy than fuzzy. (Hey, that’s a new word for dining reviews, fuzzy food!)

Because this is called Casserole House, I still felt like I needed to try the casseroles, even if they’re just like soon soup. So I recruited my friends Vera and Ray to come with me for dinner, especially since they also live in the neighborhood.

We arrived for dinner and ended up ordering the black goat casserole ($29). They had a lot of other interesting casseroles, like octopus and beef, and pig’s feet. There’s even a vegetarian options. All casseroles, however, do start with the base of a lot of vegetables that’s stewed together with the other specialty items.

(Note: We got the same type of panchan that I got when I came on my own, and the Korean pancake was still amazing even though the shape wasn’t as pretty as my first time. I guess things can never live up to your first love.)

Our waitress set up the tableside hot plate, which will keep our casserole hot as we eat. Then a few minutes later she brought out the huge casserole (I can see why you can’t eat it by yourself) in a large metal casserole pan. The soup was still bubbling.

The casserole also came with this sauce, but the waitress didn’t say how we were supposed to use it. It looked like a mixture of hot mustard and ketchup with some kind of black sauce that had a lot of grain. I just mixed them all up and poured a little into my individual bowl of black goat stew.

The sauce was actually light and slightly sweet and tart, not spicy at all. In a way, it helped cut into the richness of the goat meat.

I had black goat meat at Sahn Maru and didn’t enjoy it, but Casserole House’s version was way better because of the tenderness of the strips of goat meat. The soup flavor was also nice and full-bodied, and all the other ingredients were nicely cooked, not overcooked at all. Eating the casserole with a side of rice was a very complete and satisfying dinner.

Korean casseroles are really just huge soups with lots of ingredients in them to add depth of flavor. With the chilly summer we’ve been having in the Bay Area, I’m sure I’ll be back to try them again at Casserole House.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (enjoy the pancake)

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

Casserole House on Urbanspoon


Kim said...

My trip to Seoul earlier this year has made me a fan of Korean food. Have you tried Dong Baek on my block? I'm always the only non-Korean there. Let me know if/when you want to try it.

Claudine said...

I need to make it out to Oakland more... we love Korean food... have you been to My Tofu House in SF? They specialize in soon dubu chiggae - spicy tofu stew. The portions are perfectly sized for single diners...

Single Guy Ben said...

Oooh, you guys are just trying to get me to San Francisco more often! :) I'll definitely check out those places, although hard to think of going so far when there are so many options in Oakland.