Hosoonyi – Edmonds, WA

Hosoonyi Tofu Restaurant
23830 Highway 99
Edmonds, WA
(425) 775-8196

Diverting off the I-5 near Lake Ballinger and hitting the Pacific (or #99) Highway, passing by what seems to be an endless number of places that are in love with the flavour of teriyaki, you can discover a fairly well known Korean restaurant called Hosoonyi that specializes in sundubu jjigae.  This spicy hot stew is a classic dish in Korea, eaten for lunch or dinner, alongside a bowl of steamed white rice and of course, the usual roundup of side dishes (banchan).  So with the good things I’d heard about it, I was quite excited to have a meal here on a return trip from Seattle.

From the outside, it looks nothing particularly spectacular, nestled inside a secluded complex housing other eateries such as what I believe was either a Vietnamese pho place or a bubble tea shop.  There is a decent sized parking lot surrounding the area for customers, as it seems a vehicle is required for getting here.  At the dinner hour, the room was quite full of customers, young and old, singles and families.  Usually a good and reliable sign that the food is good.

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Ku Wol San – Coquitlam, BC

Ku Wol San
535 Clarke Road
Coquitlam, BC
(604) 931-5535

As a change of pace from my exploration of the predominantly Korean restaurant hub that surrounds the Lougheed Highway and North Road intersection along the border that splits the communities of Burnaby and Coquitlam, I recently ventured northbound to where the road changed into Clarke Road.  In a split second decision, I veered sharply into the parking lot of Ku Wol San Korean Restaurant, not knowing at all what to expect…

With a few other cars already parked in their lot next door, I hoped I wouldn’t be alone inside and thankfully I was not.  Already a few young couples were having meals, a five person family, and a group of four young men.  All seemingly speaking Korean, so I took that as a good sign.

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Meok Ja Gol – Burnaby, BC

Meok Ja Gol
4992 Newton Street
Burnaby, BC
(604) 436-5005

May 2010 re-visit post here
December 2009 re-visit post here

Original post here:

On the prowl in my car for new places to eat, I find that strong visibility from the road always plays a strong role in first my ability to spot them, and also my decision to actually check them out.  The major artery of Kingsway is probably one of the best examples of this…

Way back in 2005, I can remember dining at Meok Ja Gol and having the barbecue.  With those faint memories in my mind, during a weekday out in Burnaby for some meetings, I came across this restaurant once again.  As I alluded to earlier, had it not been for the sight lines from the road, I probably would have missed it and not recalled my first visit years ago.

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Seoul Dookbegi [Re-visited] – Vancouver, BC

Seoul Dookbaegi [ Re-visited]
#1031, 1033 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 879 1515

Seoul Dookbaegi on Urbanspoon

Previously I had mentioned on an earlier visit to this restaurant that I wanted to explore the Soondubu on the menu, after hearing that it was their house specialty.  As a few months had passed since then, I felt it was time to go sample this dish at Seoul Dookbegi.

This visit coincided with a much busier night, with many of the tables in the central part of the restaurant occupied, so we were seated in a booth near the entrance.  I noticed there was some interesting Korean script plastered on the wall in front of me, and the bowl of flavored salt (for Seolleongtang) was already on the table.

From this vantage point, I could see more clearly the framed pictures with descriptions of dishes available on the menu.  Seeing great images of food just wets my appetite all the more while I am checking out the menu or waiting for my food to be delivered to my table.

The banchan was exactly the same five dish combination that we had seen previously.  The steamed broccoli being the unique thing I remember from this set, as well the kimchi was really good again.

And finally the Soondubu.  Immediately after it was brought to my table, I noticed the strong scent of sesame oil.  For those who have ever cooked with it know, a little goes a long way.  So sensing so much of it had me worried.  A quick stir of the top layer did reveal a shimmery level that confirmed my guess that they had been a little generous when pouring this on top.

Stirring the pot some more, I was pleased to find a plentiful amount of soft tofu – a key element of this dish.  Although I had asked for the seafood variant, there was a distinct lack of many pieces of shrimp, clams, squid, etc. Thus the flavor hadn’t really been incorporated into the soup, unlike what you get at Insadong.  As much as they may think highly of their version, I’m afraid Seoul Dookgegi’s doesn’t cut it 100%, and thus Insadong remains the Soondubu champ in the GVA for me.

Seoul Dookbaegi on Urbanspoon

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant – Las Vegas, NV

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant
3765 South Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 891 8403

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Along The Strip, you can still find a proper non-hotel affiliated, family-run, ethnic restaurant… if you look carefully. One of them can be found in a building recessed behind a small mall housing some shops selling tacky Vegas trinkets, beside the MGM Grand and across the street from the Monte Carlo. Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant is not visible from the street, and if it were not for the large digital signage that flashed Korean Hangul that I saw while driving by on the first day of my recent stay, I would not have know there was a restaurant back there. I noted it in my memory and revisited the area on foot the following day.

Once inside, I asked the waitress why the “II” was noted in their name; she remarked that they have their first establishment in Los Angeles, and this is their second venture. Being the entertainment city that it is, I immediately noticed that some of the handwritten autographs tacked to a wall near the front cashier were for some of the biggest names in Korean entertainment, such as one from the actor Jang Dong-Kun. A far cry from the B-list actors and singers you see on the same autograph boards in Vancouver’s Korean restaurants.

Seated in a comfortable booth that could easily seat six people, we ordered from the menu a pair of dishes. Yes, I decided to continue my hunt for my most favorite edition of Soondubu outside of South Korea. At Ginseng, their creation was surprisingly good. I’d say I would rate it up there with my current favorite (from Insadong in Coquitlam, BC), with its depth of seafood flavor in the rich spicy broth, and plenty of delicious soft tofu adding that delicate texture to the mix. The only factor that would take them down a notch in the rankings would be the volume of various seafood bits inside, Insadong has a slight edge here.

The Yukejang (spicy beef soup) comprised of a watery and slightly sour but mainly spicy broth that included shredded beef, tang myun (clear noodles) and an assortment of vegetables such as gosari namul (bracken fiddleheads), and green onions was as expected. A relatively straightforward dish, that is less fiery in comparison to the Soondubu, begins to taste overly “beefy” if eaten to the very last drop. For me, this begins to be a turnoff towards the end of the meal, as the meatiness of the dish just lingers on my taste buds. No complaints though on how it was prepared, as there was nothing out of the ordinary from versions of this that I’ve tasted in Seoul.

Should you ever find yourself on Las Vegas Blvd., looking for a reprieve from all the casino buffets, and having a craving for barbecue meat Korean-style, Ginseng is your place as well. The table of tourists next to us were cooking up a flaming storm and the aromas were very enticing. Meat on a grill though, how could you go wrong? I am aware of other Korean restaurants off the Strip, but I have not visited any of them. Perhaps I’ll save that for another trip…

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Insadong – Coquitlam, BC

Insadong Korean Barbecue and Seafood Restaurant
403 North Road
Coquitlam, BC
(604) 936 3778

Vancouver is blessed with a myriad of choices when it comes to Korean cuisine. Already, I’ve personally visited a selection of them, with related reports posted here on Foodosophy. By no means is this a complete listing, as many other known establishments such as Book Kyung Ban Jeom, Norboo, Seoul Royal House, etc. have yet to be visited and reviewed. In time, I will no doubt get to them.

Some background (and please, take it with a grain of salt – I am no demographer or population sociologist, so spare me any diatribe or anal nitpicking of the data)… the ethnic Korean population as noted in the 2006 census for the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) of Vancouver was published as being between 1% ~ 2%. This is the case for other ethnic groups as well, such as ‘Southeast Asian’, ‘West Asian’, ‘Latin American’, and others (with the largest communities being identified as ‘Chinese’ at 18.2%, followed by ‘South Asian’ at 9.9% and ‘Filipinos’ at 3.8%). Thus as you can see, they are not a large piece of the ethnic pie, so to speak.

On my recent visit to the neighboring city of Coquitlam when I dined at the satisfying Blue Sea, I spotted Insadong at the intersection of North Road and Lougheed Highway, as I was making the return drive home. If you’ve ever been to Coquitlam, perhaps you’ll feel as I did and think that a large part of this reported Korean population in the Vancouver CMA is all based here, given the prevalence of so many Korean businesses and signs in Hangul. Frankly, it could easily rival the likes of the Wilshire/Hancock Park neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and the Shin-Okubo area in Tokyo, for having a densely concentrated Korean community that manages to exist in its own little bubble all within another country’s society. A bit surprising, considering the small percentage of the population that are Korean.

Incidentally, Insadong is actually a neighborhood in Seoul that is best known for its drive to preserve Korean culture, with shops selling old antique wares and classic buildings such as tea houses that serve it in the old ways.  I’d visited one of these many years ago on one of my earliest visits to South Korea and found it to be an enlightening experience.  I think the operators of ‘Insadong, the restaurant’ have tried to incorporate some of these elements, with some Korean-themed artwork displayed in the glass cases in the front of the house.

Stepping inside the entrance that is situated on the side of the building that does not face Lougheed Highway, you are immediately drawn into a deceptively large space (if you were to envision the size from just from the exterior of the building)  From this waiting area, you can see the various tanks of live seafood (fish, crab, and lobster).  Upon being seated, I could still see the tanks from my table.  There are also several private rooms in the back of the restaurant which you pass by on the way to the restroom.  I think these are used most often for parties, celebrations, etc. and not something that you can use unreserved.

Completely famished, I went off the board and picked a non-traditional item as an appetizer in the sweet and spicy glazed, deep fried chicken wings.  They were larger than the standard size ones you get at say a local Canadian pub during happy hour, and thus a good amount of meat was on the bones, all encased in a nice crispy crust.  As expected, these wings got my taste buds yearning for a nice cold Korean beer.

A short while ago on a repeat visit to DBBG with some other friends, including one who had lived for a few years in several parts of Korea as a student, he had ordered this dish which intrigued me.  Not normally a big fan of bulgogi, as I prefer my meat to be seasoned more savory than sweet, I had not seen it done like this in a Korean restaurant before, soup-based and almost like a Japanese sukiyaki.  The broth was neither too light nor too heavy, and the slices of beef combined with the onions melded well in the sweeter flavored soup.  I would not say this dish blew me away, but would see it as a heartwarming meal as the days get colder in Vancouver’s autumn.

I’m beginning to sense that since the beginning of Foodosophy, that I’ve written about soondubu frequently.  The reason being, it is perhaps my most favorite spicy Korean jjigae (stew) dish.  In Insadong, I think I have discovered the most flavorful and authentic tasting version in the GVA.  The rich seafood flavor that is infused into the spicy gochujang-based soup was the best I’ve had outside of Korea.  The soft tofu was plentiful and combined with the green onions and mushrooms, made for a complex texture medley bite after bite.  I always prefer to eat this with a side of steamed white rice, scooping a spoonful of it into the broth.

I’d heard rumors that Insadong is quite popular and respected in the Korean community, with immigrants/new Canadians and short stay students alike, as well as with local media publications (e.g. ‘best Korean’ in the 2008 Golden Plates Readers Choice Awards by the Georgia Straight).   Word-of-mouth has been my introduction to this place, and I must thank those who recommended it to me, despite the needed drive out to Coquitlam.  I am sure there are other Korean gems in the neighborhood, as it has now been two-for-three in terms of satistifying dining experiences (the lone disappointment so far being the House of Tofu Soup).  If any readers have other suggestions in the area, please feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

Insadong Korean BBQ and Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Cho Sun – Vancouver, BC

>Cho Sun B.B.Q. Korean Restaurant
3486 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 434 1222

December 2009 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Second chances.  Be it the delinquent teenager caught skipping class yet again, the friend who’s let you down after promising to do something for you, or a restaurant that has disappointed you on your first dining experience there… they all deserve one.  In the latter case, I’m of the more generous type.  By that I mean, I usually give restaurants the three-strikes-you’re-out policy, unless my virgin visit was insanely horrible in some aspect (food quality, service, etc.) and I cannot rationally justify in my own mind to ever go back.  This has happened only rarely.

Although its a neighboring city, I don’t often travel to Burnaby from Vancouver.  I have only a few friends who live out there and generally we meet somewhere in downtown Vancouver for most get-togethers, nor am I a SFU alum so I have no ties academically to the region either.  Suffice it to say, I just think of Burnaby as being the place with “the mall”.  But on the occasions that I do make the drive, I simply take the commuter thoroughfare known as Kingsway.  It’s on these journeys that I randomly scan the sides of the road, seeing if there is anything that interests me from a food perspective.  Indeed, through this method I have discovered some.  I’ve written about a few already on Foodosophy and have a more in my personal editorial backlog.  Suffice it to say, Kingsway is my little foreign silk road of wonder.

Through one of these travels, I had discovered Cho Sun B.B.Q Korean Restaurant about two years ago.  With the objective to get some basic Korean-style barbecue meat, I ended up being unimpressed with the meal I had then.  Sure, the smells were amazing as I stepped inside in the spartan decorated room, and the menu was fully loaded with the staple cuts of beef, pork and chicken, and there were Korean speaking proprietors running the establishment.  But when it came to the taste, it was lacking.  The marinade was marginal and came off as weak through the finished table-cooked product.  Prices were a bit on the higher side for the same amount of meat compared to other Korean barbecue places in the city as well.  It was not bad, just not enough to warrant a repeat.

Fast forward to this month, while driving on this same street and looking for a dinner location, I spotted the ever present sign of this restaurant once again.  The small parking lot was full but I managed to see an empty stall so decided what the heck.  I’d shunned them long enough since my first meal there, and felt it was time to step into the batter’s box as any true food athlete should.  A smiling man was coming out of the door – who I later saw re-enter the premises and appeared to be the manager – so that struck me as a good sign.  The incredible scent of cooking barbecue hit me like a tidal wave when I opened the door, which overwhelmed my senses and had me salivating immediately.

Seated in one of the partitioned booths with a ready-to-use grill cook top, my attention turned right away to the booth to my left.  On their table was this large round stone hotplate, with nice thick circular shaped cuts of beef short ribs that was covered in a thick looking sauce.  I knew I had to have this.  But after reading the menu, I had no idea what it would be called.  This was where my fortune turned, as my dining companion could read the Korean writing on a handwritten piece of paper that was hanging by the cash register bar.  Maun Kalbijim, was a new menu item that could be ordered on this night (and not yet in the proper booklet).  “Maun” means spicy, “kalbi” means “beef ribs”, and “jim” means braised.

Though I am not a fan of having my meat dishes in a Korean barbecue restaurant cooked for me in the kitchen instead of at my table by myself, this was an exception.  Maun Kalbijim, needs to be slow cooked/braised over many hours, as the marinated beef short ribs need to break down causing the meat, fat and gelatin to tenderize and create the body for the sauce.  A mixture of both sweet and spicy properties, this rich dark brown glaze, that appears as dark as a cola, is just packed with sugary flavor with the heat coming at the tail end on your taste buds after you’ve had a bite.  This double-whammy of flavor from the sauce had me floored.  The ribs themselves were very tender and you could easily separate it in a ring shape from the rib bone itself.  We were required to order a two-person serving to get this dish and I could have easily eaten it all by myself.  As I was finishing off my last piece, I had to restrain myself from scooping up spoonfuls of the delicious sauce to pour over what remained of my bowl of steamed rice.  I even wondered out loud if they would sell me a bottle of this sauce.  It’s been a long time since I’ve ever expressed something like that in a restaurant environment.

To compliment our meal on this cold rainy autumn evening, we ordered a single bowl of Soondubu.  As easy as this dish appears to be, I struggle to find many places that do it well and to my liking.  Often the problem arises from a general flavorless soup that is too watered down and not spicy enough, or an obvious restraint by the cook to fill it with good quality seafood ingredients to enrich the flavors, or just simple a poor consistency in the soft tofu.  Unfortunately, the Soondubu at this place fell into the disappointing category.  Perhaps it was just also overwhelmed by the incredible success of the Maun Kalbijim, but the gap in satisfaction we had between that dish and this Soondubu was enormous.

A sign attached to the wall of our booth showed that there are several lunch specials here as well, that look very appetizing.  At a reasonable ten dollar price point, they look promising – though I have no idea of the quantity, especially of the meat component of some.  The customers on this night were mostly Asian, and surprisingly virtually all were speaking Chinese.  I think Korean-style barbecue is popular with this group, as there were multi-generation families there as well as younger couples and groups of friends.  We were lucky to get a table when we did as the flow of customers inside well after 9pm was astonishing, many had to wait outside in line.  Perhaps the word of this outstanding Maun Kalbijim had spread already, and I was one of the last to know.  I’m just glad I did find out about it in time.  A strong recommendation from Shokutsu here, you must try this dish!  I am so glad I gave Cho Sun a second chance to impress me.

[October 31, 2008 Update: The Spicy Braised Beef Ribs is now appearing in the restaurant’s menu booklet. Serving sizes for 2 and 3 people available.]

Cho Sun Korean on Urbanspoon

House of Tofu Soup – Burnaby, BC

[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]

(Pukchangdong) House of Tofu Soup
4563 North Road
Burnaby, BC
Tel: 604-420-5254
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11am-9:30pm; Sun, closed

When a place puts in its name, one dish that its supposed to specialize in and do very well, I tend to have high expectations.  After all, if its in the name, they better have game.  Unfortunately, the House of Tofu Soup did not live up to what I was hoping for in terms of their soondubu (Korean Soft Tofu Stew) and I came away quite disappointed.

The House of Tofu Soup is off to the side of North Road heading south coming off the Lougheed Highway, and its quite easy to miss the turnoff into the space as the building is recessed a bit from the road.  The letdown was probably amplified by the small but near-full parking lot outside the establishment, which raised my hopes thinking that if it was busy then that was a good sign.  Opening the front door and scanning inside, the place was fairly busy and even after my dining companion and me were seated, a couple more groups of people came in.  I was sort of expecting more traditional floor-style seating, but it was just tables in the main space, and some more off to the side that were partitioned off by a barrier.  I’d say about 90% of the people there were Korean/speaking Korean, and was a mix of young groups of friends, older women, as well as some families.

As those familar with Korean cuisine know, after placing your order an assortment of free and refillable side dishes (banchan) are brought to your table.  Again, this was a letdown and was our second hint that things were not up to snuff.  The cabagge kimchi was not flavorful and was lacking real taste and heat, the sweet potato/onion was again lacking flavor, and the vinegar-flavored seaweed was stringy but lacking the chewy texture that I prefer.

Thinking that the soondubu alone would not fill us up (or rather me who was in a much more hungier state having skipped lunch), we decided to order an appetizer of fried mandoo (dumplings).  As a filler, I could accept that it was just a frozen product that was deep fried and perhaps in too hot an oil bath, and the insides were just passable on taste.  My usual dining companion cringes when I order things like this, and this was one occasion that I knew they were right.

The mixed soondubu that I chose had both meat and seafood ingredients, along with an ample amount of soft tofu.  This last characteristic was the dish’s lone positive, as more often than not, many places will skimp out on the quality and quantity of tofu.  The other ingredients though, aside from the decent sized shrimp, were few and far between as I scrambled to dig out a few slices of beef, some tiny clams, bits of green onion and that was about it, from the bottom of the bowl.  As a result, none of the all important seafood flavor had incorporated itself into the broth, and now I realized why they had been generous with the tofu, perhaps an attempt to cover up the lack of a deep flavor in the soup?  With both of us unable to stomach even a half of the bowls, we had them dumped into containers to-go, and at home I tried to invigorate the flavor component of the broth by adding some clams and extra prawns, which helped a little, but probably at too late a stage in the cooking process to rectify the weakly flavored broth that I had to begin with for this reclamation project.

I hate to disparage a place based on one meal, but I am afraid if that meal is what is being advertised as the house special, then it better come fully locked and loaded.  Unfortunately, the soondubu at the House of Tofu Soup is as they say in the ad game, a complete bait-and-switch.

House of Tofu Soup on Urbanspoon