Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Can't Smell the Tofu at Young Dong Tofu

Somewhere along my life, I started to fall in love with tofu. All those childhood myths where we grow up to find things previously disgusting to us enjoyable are true. I love my tofu, whether firm or silky. Needless to say Korean tofu houses are on my frequently visited list of places to eat. Young Dong Tofu happened to be very close to my house, and it also happened to be pretty good.

On this day, I was originally going to just stay home and eat. But my vegetarian friend Ko was in the mood for some Korean tofu. Apparently everyone else she normally goes to eat tofu with is sick of eating tofu except me. So I happily obliged. Like most Korean tofu houses in the area, the menu's on the disposable paper placemats. We just split a combination order of BBQ Beef with Mushroom tofu.

(Kimchi Octopus)
A huge part of my love for Korean tofu houses are their side dishes. No other cuisines would just throw a bunch of small little places of goodies on your table for no additional charge. Young Dong gave us their kimchi octopus, kimchi cucumbers, kimchi cabbage, sprouts, seaweed and green bean pancakes for free. I generally avoid the spicy stuff except the octopus tentacles. Something about those mushy and chewy strands of tentacles overcomes my fear of spiciness. Truth be told, the kimchi actually isn't overly spicy at Young Dong. A few small bites were actually manageable for me. Young dong mixes some vegetable strands along with the octopus.

(Kimchi Cucumbers)
Since I knew I was going to blog about this outing, I decided to at least take a sample of the other kimchi dishes on the table. The spiciness was again very tolerable if I only ate one or two. The cucumber slices were crunchy and fresh. The spiciness does actually help bring out the sweetness of the cucumber. I can see why people would love this. I just can't eat too much of it. I am very glad to have given this a try, cause I would actually take a slice or two from now on whenever I revisit Young Dong.

(Kimchi Cabbage)
I have never been a fan of kimchi cabbage. Unlike the cucumber, the spiciness doesn't bring out anything from within the cabbage. It's just plain spicy with a little crunch. It's just really not my thing. I suppose if all I had was this plate of kimchi cabbage, I would still be able to eat it. But every time I see something this red, it brings back memories of my younger days where my friends brought me to these super spicy restaurants where eating was just painful.

(Green Bean Pancakes)
I have always been a fan of the green bean pancakes. Generally speaking they are just slightly crispier than a western breakfast pancake. But today's green bean pancake was way more crunchier than usual which I found way more appealing. The crunchiness almost functioned like it was some dough goo that has been battered on the outside and deep fried. I don't think the pancake was deep fried, only pan fried with enough oil to make it a little crispier and crunchier than usual.

I should come as no surprise that I love the seaweed and the sprouts. After all these are the two dishes that actually are not spicy. I do however much prefer the sprouts than the seaweed. Most Korean tofu houses' seaweeds that I had sampled tend to be too sweet. Young Dong's aren't overtly sweet, but it's there. Since the last couple of years I started becoming weary of all things sweet, I found it more and more difficult to eat a ton of seaweed. So I much rather chomp down on the sprouts.

I could just eat this dish of sprouts all day long. I can't recall one time where I didn't have to ask for more. It's fresh and crunchy yet still cooked in a broth thoroughly. It's light in flavor, chilled and easy to eat in bulk. If my meal just ended here, I would be one hundred percent satisfied. Fine, I'm over-exaggerating. The point is I just love the way Young Dong cooked their sprouts. I just need to figure out what they actually did so I can do it at home.

(Stone Bowl Rice)
Young Dong like most Korean tofu houses around Los Angeles serve their rice in traditional stone bowls. The only problem with stone bowls in general that I have often experienced is peeling off the burnt rice sticking to the bowl. I enjoy a little bit of that every time, but it's always unpredictable how easy or difficult it would be to get the rice off. If only there was an iPhone app that would scan the bowl and tell me where the weak point of the rice sticking to the bowl is. Then life would be easy. Where is that easy button when I really need it.

(Mushroom Tofu - Mild Spiciness)
Finally the main course came. We've been having a great time with great conversation so far over the condiments. There is a raw egg we were given to crack and put right into the boiling bowl of tofu. This kept the egg from being overcooked if it was placed earlier. The egg whites blend very well with the tofu and I usually forget that there was an egg inside until I reached the egg yolk which I have never been a fan of. I am also a fan of mushrooms, but I have never found the mushrooms inside the mushroom tofu satisfying. This is mostly because there just isn't enough to really share. I don't mean this one time, I just mean in general. I need a lot of mushrooms to satisfy my taste buds. A few strands of golden needle mushrooms just won't cut it. That aside, the mild spiciness for the silky tofu was just perfect for me.

(BBQ Beef)
"Beef, it's what for dinner." Or lunch in this case. Every time I see a sizzling plate, I will always go back to my childhood memory of eating a sizzling plate steak in a specific restaurant in Hong Kong. I was infatuated. Though that novelty has long worn off, somewhere deep inside the child is still there ooo-ing and ahh-ing over the sound of steaming hot food.

I generally would choose the BBQ beef over the beef ribs. Most of this was just laziness, while the rest was not wanting to deal with the ligaments that's more difficult to chew and digest. The BBQ beef today was like it always had been, a little sweet, flavorful and juicy. There were plenty of onions to flavor the meat and the rest augmented the dish in presentation and taste. The beef itself was tender and easy to eat.  It's definitely one of my favorite dishes of sliced beef from any restaurant.

I do love tofu, but I can't resist having the rest of the offerings at Young Dong. It's not because the tofu there isn't good. It's because everything else there is also good. I couldn't stop eating the sprouts and the other condiments. The aroma of the BBQ beef doesn't help the case for the tofu. No matter how amazingly silky their tofu is, it's not going to win my nose over given what else is on the table. The only time I had ever smelled tofu enough to be lured to it is when it's firm, well-marinated and grilled. Even then it's the sauce that I'm smelling, not the tofu. There's just nothing I can do about it when I can't smell the tofu because everything else smells so much stronger. Our sense of smell is far stronger and addictive than our sense of sight. It's also why in the back of my mind, I never thought of tofu houses as tofu houses, but Korean BBQ joints that also serves tofu.


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