Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Kaya Tofu & BBQ. Bonus: East Bay Korean Food Review!

Kaya Tofu & BBQ is a new-ish Korean restaurant in the Peninsula. In fact, many people seem to believe it's the only Korean restaurant in that entire area, with the next closest being in Sunnyvale/Cupertino or San Francisco.

In the last week, I've had the opportunity to go twice, both times to meet up with different friends who work in that area. The first time, I tried the Pork Soon Dooboo and my friend tried the Galbi Tang. The second time, I tried the Kimchi Jjigae and my friend had what I had last time. We also split a pan-fried tofu appetizer.

Both times, the soups were tasty enough that I didn't really notice them. See, that sounds like an insult, but I don't mean it as such. They was tasty in just the way I had hoped and expected. I wasn't disappointed. I also wasn't falling out of my seat in ecstasy, but they are dishes I'd definitely get again when I get the craving.

They have the full complement of the general dishes you get in a generalized Korean restaurant: the basic stews, BBQ dishes, noodles, dumplings, and bibimbops. And from the smell of things, they make everything just fine.

So if you live on the Peninsula, I think you'll be very happy with Kaya. You won't say it's your favorite restaurant ever, but you'll probably find yourself going back when the old craving hits.

The thing with Korean food (and many other types of food) is that you really want to be able to go to a specialty restaurant for a specific dish you want. You want tofu stew, you go to a tofu joint (like Pyung Chang Tofu). You want grilled BBQ, you go to a grilled BBQ joint (like Ohgane, Sam Won, or Koryo).

Wait, this could use a list about now. Here is a guide to East Bay Korean food.
You Want:Go To:
Grill-at-table BBQKoryo, Sam Won, or Ohgane
Tofu stewPyung Chang Tofu
Oxtail soupSeoul Gom Tang II*
Jja jang myunYet Nal Jja Jang
Grilled pork & rice cake wraps w/ drinksKang Tong Deji*
BBQ Chicken w/ beerI forget the name of this place. OB Chicken?
"Formal" or "Full" mealSahn Maru

The places I've put *s on are hard-to-find or only have the tiniest sign.

There are places that I've been to in Oakland that either didn't leave an impression or I didn't like:
  • Lee's BBQ. I don't remember it. But I think it was ok.
  • Hahn's Hibachi. Please, please kill me now.
  • That stand in the Emery Bay Food Court. Really greasy, but ok flavor-wise. Fine for food court food, but that's it.
  • That other stand in the Emery Bay Food Court that serves noodle soups. Soup base is great, but wtf is up with that fake-ass not-kimchi vinegared cabbage thing posing as kimchi? It's disgusting. Over all, so-so.
  • Jong Ga House. The sides (banchan) are some of the best I've ever had. They give you a feast-worthy quantity of food and is sort of country-style, as far as I can tell, with more old-fashioned flavors. That said, I don't like their stew dishes so I don't go back even though it's so close. I should give it another shot though. Other people love it.
Places I have not yet tried:
There are a couple near downtown Oakland and in Chinatown too.

Friday, September 08, 2006


So, tonight we went out in search of some sort of tapas. We were in the mood for a variety of flavors, rather than any one particular thing. Ended up at Grasshopper, an Asian fusion place. Had:

* Tuna Poki
* Sweet Potato Fries w/ Curry Aioli
* 12-Spice Pork Ribs
* Chard w/Sesame Sauce
* Braised Duck Donburi
* Chocolate & Cardamom Profiteroles
* Cappucinos

The food started out well - the poki was quite good, and the curry aioli was really tasty. The fries were really varied, running the gamut from super-crispy to limp & flaccid. Tasty, but the texture could have really used some work.

The ribs had good flavor, but the spice rub was a bit too heavy on the salt (something that was commented on in a lot of the reviews of the place - a general over-saltiness that Ei-Nyung attributed to it being a sake bar).

The chard was really good, but at first the sesame sauce was again, overpoweringly salty. Once we realized that the sauce needed to be mixed in, and that it was only drizzled on top, the dish balanced out a lot more nicely.

The duck donburi was suprisingly, underseasoned, and lacking in really "ducky" flavor. It was good, but pretty much unremarkable.

The profiteroles had a nice combination of chocolate & cardamom, which was pleasant, but otherwise, they were just profiteroles, and unremarkable in any other sense.

All in all, it was ok. I don't think I'd necessarily go back, but I don't feel like I totally wasted an evening. The curry aioli and the poki were worth the trip.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Oakland Korean-Chinese Food

I just learned of a new (to me) Korean-Chinese restaurant in Oakland! It's called Yuyu Za Zang, located at 3919 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA. The thing that excites me is this quote in the review summary:
Larry Yu, a Korean-born Chinese chef, opened this cheery yellow cafe on Telegraph to sell Chinese-Korean noodle dishes like his dad used to make – namely jam pong, a spicy noodle soup, and ja jang myun, black-bean sauce noodles beloved by children all over Korea.
Randomly, the full review had this interesting tidbit:
According to the Korea Herald, March 14 is now known as "White Day," when young men who received chocolate gifts from their girlfriends on Valentine's Day are supposed to reciprocate with white chocolate. And April 14 has become "Black Day," when bitter singles are supposed to dress in black, drink coffee straight up, and eat jjajangmyeon. Mark your calendars.
Heh, that's totally awesome.

At the table

I love dishes that are either cooked or prepared at the table. If it involves lighting a fire dangerously close to your face, even better! :D

Meals we've had at home (or the home of a friend) that involved at-the-table cooking/prep:
  • Korean bbq
  • Sushi
  • Onigiri
  • Vietnamese spring rolls (fresh, not fried)
  • shabu-shabu
I can't think what else.

I'm thinking fondue is next. I've had a set forever that I've never used.


We've been on quite a cooking kick lately. In the last week, we had:
  • Thursday: Curry (cr. Seppo) and rice
  • Friday: Braised short ribs and rice
  • Saturday: Flank steak sandwiches with baba ganoush and tomato & feta salad (cr. Joe for entire meal)
  • Sunday: Orange chicken with grilled artichokes, artichoke bread (bought), salad (cr. TU,PbC), and rice
  • Monday: Roasted Pork Shoulder (cr. Seppo) with bok choy, kimchee (bought), and rice
  • Tuesday: Mapo tofu, seaweed soup w/ shitake mushrooms, green beans, steamed dumplings (from frozen), kimchee (bought), and rice. I was also going to make scallion & chive pancakes, but I didn't want to hold up dinner (which took less than one hour to cook).
Tonight is dinner with H! Fun!

This coming week, we'll probably have some homemade pizza with Trader Joe's dough, and I'm not sure what else. I have sliced fatty pork and kimchee and tofu leftover so that I can make myself a hot tofu stew during the day on Friday when I work from home. :D

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Short Ribs Again

In the past, I've blogged about my quest to make the perfect short rib dish:
Since the third time, I have made this dish a couple of times in the pressure cooker. The last attempt was on Friday. Before Friday, Seppo's observation had been that the flavors seemed somewhat dull and the meat seemed somewhat greasy. I had noted an undesireable mushiness in the vegetables.

To address these issues, I made the following adjustments:
  • To add a deeper meaty flavor, I seared the meat in the pan at the very beginning, instead of parboiling it.
  • To remove greasiness, I deglazed the pan (with the meat in it) and poured out the liquid into a grease separator. I used a part of the defatted liquid for braising liquid for the meat. I also reduced the amount of sesame oil.
  • To add brightness, I reduced the rest of the defatted liquid and added a small dash of red wine vinegar and added this to the cooker when I added the vegetables. I also finished the dish with a bit of lemon and finely minced scallion, the latter of which also added a pleasing visual note.
  • To keep the vegetables from becoming mushy, I added the vegetables in later in the process and cooked them for a shorter time. Last time I had cooked the meat for 11 minutes and then added the vegetables for 9 more minutes. This time, I cooked the meat for 12 minutes then added the vegetables for 8 more minutes.
  • To add a little kick, I added a small handful of whole peppercorns.
  • Even though this wasn't previously thought of as an issue, I switched to boneless short ribs rather than the bone-in ones I had been buying before.

I started cooking at 6pm by putting the rice to cook in the cooker. Total cooking time was about 1 hr, counting prep and most of clean up. There was enough food to serve 4-5 people comfortably.

  • 2.5-3 lbs boneless short rib meat
  • 1 large (or 2 small) onion, cut into big (3/4" to 1") pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, run through a garlic press or finely minced (sometimes, I just throw them in smashed and nearly whole, depends on my mood)
  • 10-15 very thin slices ginger (I sliced them across the fibers, so that they formed about 1" rounds)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into big (3/4" to 1") pieces
  • 2 medium to large carrots, peeled and cut into big (1/2" to 3/4") pieces
  • a little less than 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon corn syrup
  • 10-20 whole peppercorns
  • cooking oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • lemon
  • red wine vinegar (actually this would be much better with some wine instead, but I didn't want to open a new bottle)
  1. Score each piece twice on each side, making sure to slice across the grain, then salt and pepper liberally.
  2. Sear meat in heavy-bottomed pan which has been preheated over medium-high heat with about half a teaspoon of oil. If your pan is not preheated, then the meat will stick, so be careful. I used the pressure cooker, which so happens to have a nice, heavy bottom. :) Turn over meat pieces when you think the surface has a good sear. You aren't looking for the meat to be cooked through, so don't worry about that.
  3. While the meat is cooking, stir together the soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, and corn syrup in a cup.
  4. Keeping the heat on, add about 1 to 1-1/2 cup of water to the meat in the pan, enough to scrape up all the nice brown bits up from the bottom of the pan. You should hear some crazy sizzling sounds. Let the liquid warm up to a gentle boil, then remove from heat. The hope is that some of the fat from the meat has rendered into the pan and then into the liquid.
  5. Pour out the liquid into a grease separator (or put in a tall container like a cup where you can let the fat rise to the top and skim off). I used a doubled up cheese cloth to strain out the scummy bits from the liquid.
  6. Add about 1/3 cup of the defatted liquid to the sauce.
  7. Add the garlic, half the ginger, half the onions, peppercorns, and the sauce into the cooker containing the meat.
  8. Close up the pressure cooker and turn up the heat. Once it hits the optimal pressure, cook it for 12 minutes. If you are cooking this in the oven or on the stove using a slow-cook method, you should do this part for about 2+ hours.
  9. Put the rest of the defatted liquid in a pan in the stove and reduce on high heat until there is only about 1/4 to 1/2 cup
  10. Chop the rest of the vegetables and clean up in the interim. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I didn't chop the vegetables until I needed them, which is good because there are times of just waiting around.
  11. At the end of 12 minutes, turn off the heat, and release the pressure.
  12. Once the pressure is fully released, add the remaining ingredients: the potatoes, carrots, leftover onions, and leftover ginger. Add the reduced liquid, along with about 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar (or 1/2 cup or so of red wine for maximum deliciousness).
  13. Close up the pressure cooker and turn up the heat. Once it hits the optimal pressure, cook it for 8 minutes. This part would be at least 1-1.5 hours in the oven or in the stove.
  14. At the end of 8 minutes, turn off the heat, release the pressure, then open up the cooker. Turn on the heat to the lowest possible setting, and add the juice of about 1/4 to 1/2 lemon (depending on tartness and size of lemon -- start with 1/4 and adjust) and toss the contents around and let simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Serve with finely minced scallion and rice. I used a total of three scallions for the entire dish. I actually added the scallions while the dish was still in the pot so that it cooked a bit from the residual heat.

The meat had actually reached a satisfactory level for me, but the vegetables were still a tad bit mushy; the potatoes were not at their optimum creaminess. For next time, I'd shift the cooking time to 14 min for the meat and 6 min after the rest of the vegetables are added, and finish off on the stovetop if the vegetables seem a bit underdone.

Aside from the mushiness, I think the modifications successfully addressed each of the problems we had observed before, but my guess is that the recipe could further be improved by:
  • Using a good dry, acidic red wine & beef stock to deglaze the pan
  • Adding chive oil!
  • Having a really crunchy vegetable to serve as a side dish