The San Gabriel Mall is filled with so many good restaurants, I think I may have to try them all. On our monthly visits here, my friend and I always spend a good hour (or two…or three) at 99 Ranch browsing through every single product in the store and eating lots of samples. I am simply fascinated by Asian supermarkets. There’s always something interesting to eat and see whether it be fresh red bean pancakes or a dozen different brands of shao bing. I love standing at the seafood section and watching people call out their ordered, rushing to grab their precious steamed crabs and lobsters. I in heaven examining the baked goods – custard buns, green tea mochi, black sesame toast. Why, my ideal home would be located in the middle of a supermarket! Ohhh, now isn’t that a good idea?
Going back to the food. Ko Hyang is located upstairs in the mall. It is one of the many Korean Tofu Restaurants that seem to be taking over the world (almost) as quickly as L&L. The place was empty when we came, but then again it was 4pm and I doubt many people eat dinner that early. The waiters were kind of milling about with nothing much to do and seemed particularly eager to see us. They swooshed opened the door with big smiles and gestured for us to sit. I started to get the impression that they were desperate for business. (But not to worry, the food was above average and it started to get crowded as we left).First came the complementary ban chan, small Korean appetizers. There was nothing out of the ordinary except maybe the random dish of nori. This is the first Korean place I’ve been to that offered nori as part of the ban chan. The sweet eggy pancake in the middle was a nice touch and went well with the sesame based sauce. Kim chee was below par, flavorless and watery. A friend and I shared the BBQ Beef Rib and Kimchee Tofu Soup combo ($13.95). She wanted it non-spicy and I was craving extra spicy so we compromised and ordered the medium. The spicier the better, no? This was brought to our table it all it’s bubbling glory (sorry, no more bubbles by the time I snapped the picture!) The waiter dramatically cracked a raw egg into the bowl and viola, there you have it – egg in kimchee tofu soup! This was an okay soup, though no where close to So Gong Dong, my favorite place for tofu soup back home. (Update: So Gong Dong on Kapiolani has closed (to make room for Nordstorm of all places!) and will reopen in the McCully Shopping Center later this month.) The broth was very “light” and they were skimpy with the tiny pieces beef. The tofu was also much firmer than the usual tofu that goes into these dishes.
Along with the order came the BBQ Beef Rib. This was excellent, very tender rib pieces with the smoky, slightly burnt charcoal taste. You could hear the sizzle of the meat, begging you to come and tear it apart. Ohhh meat! So juicy and soft, I could have easily polished off another order. I may be lame in saying this but my favorite part of such dishes is always the pieces of grilled onions on the bottom. I like to eat raw onions (I’ll worry about my breath later) but when they’re grilled and absorb some juicy drippings from sitting under the ribs, a bowl of onions and rice is all I need for a feast! We also had…Yesss! Dolsot Bibimbap ($8.95)! I’m a sucker for Bibimbop, especially when it’s served in the hot stone. The rice gets all crispy on the bottom and goes so well with the spicy sauce. It’s such a big, feel good, happy dish.
And that’s what it looked like after I mixed everything together. Oh crap this was good. This may also have to do with the fact that I haven’t had Bibimbop in over a month. I love the play of textures you get in each bite. I tasted the clean crunch of the cucumbers with the juicy goodness of the beef in the first bite, crisp bean sprouts and sweet mushrooms in the second. All this mixed in with the spicy sauce (what’s the name of this sauce?) and rice – some parts steaming soft, others crunchy from sitting at the bottom of the stone. The complexity of flavors and the different combinations of each bite keep you intrigued for yet another spoonful. I just kept on eating, all the while thinking, please, don’t let this goodness stop! Luckily it was a big bowl. I was felt like I was going to burst into little baby bibimbops after I ate. Can you imagine what that would look like.
Will be back…as soon as I try all the other places in the San Gabriel Mall of culinary goodness!
Ko Hyang Tofu House
140 W. Valley Bl. #210
San Gabriel, Ca 91776