Elk Grove Tofu House8821 Sheldon Rd.
Elk Grove, CA 95624
While the name is pretty prosaic—Elk Grove Tofu House—the offerings on its menu are anything but. There are a number of endearing features to this Korean eatery. First and foremost is Jung, who mans the front counter, serves and politely inquires as to the meal’s caliber. On a visit in which there is a solitary patron, she watches a bit of Korean soap opera on the flat screen on the wall opposite the register, visibly concerned over the fate of the show’s young couple.
What constitutes superior Korean cuisine is beyond personal comprehension, due to a relative lack of experience in consuming it. However, like so many things, it’s far easier to identify substandard Korean fare.
There is nothing substandard about the aptly named Tofu House. The soon tofu soup arrives bubbling rapidly, hotter than, as the saying goes, Hades. That’s as it should be, since commonly an egg gets plopped on top to fry while the Celsius drifts down a level, allowing consumption.
There’s an abundance of reasons why tofu appears in the name of this popular dish—the answer is in the bowl. Jung recommends the seafood soon tofu—all six variations, including a veggie version, are $7.99. Here, the jumble of multisized tofu chunks is complemented with a few shrimp, oysters and clams, one still in its shell. The tofu, as is its wont, sucks up the seafood and broth flavors with depraved abandon. Other than a smattering of scallions, that’s pretty much the soup, which more rightly should be called a stew.
Jung says it’s healthy and asks if it tastes good. Easy answer: very much so. Can’t think of a better joint at which to lose soon tofu virginity.
The 2-inch deep, 6-inches-across bowl is hard to empty, particularly with nine banchan—two more side dishes than on a previous visit. One likes to believe the additional plates are recognition of just exactly how bitchin’ a customer I am, but there’s the strong possibility nine comes with the stew because it’s a tad less substantial than the bulgogi or bibimbap.
The original seven plates are kimchi—natch—chili-oil enhanced, parboiled broccoli, improvement on an otherwise abomination; sweetish paper-thin beef with clear noodles and carrot threads; daikon chunks in a rust-orange hot sauce; ojingeochae bokkeum, stir-fried, rubbery dried squid; bland, gelatinous jiggling rectangles of water chestnut jelly; and mushroom-hued pickled cucumber triangles.
Next time around, there’s sesame-seed-sprinkled bean sprouts instead of the beef and clear noodles, syrup-soaked potato chunks and salty-sweet barklike seaweed squares.
Getting back to the prosaic theme, the Tofu House’s offerings center on the aforementioned six varieties of soon tofu, three versions of bulgogi, a couple types of bibimbap, classic barbecue ribs, a tofu and vegetable salad, seafood pancakes, and six combinations pairing the entrees with a bowl of soon tofu. The soon tofu plus nine banchan is close to too much for one person, the bulgogi and seven banchan is too much. Tofu House’s spicy pork version comes on an expansive sizzling platter carpeted with shredded cabbage.
It isn’t all that spicy, prompting speculation that Jung and the kitchen staff fear I’m a closeted Korean chili coward. And while Jung is proficient in English, “Hey, baby, I’ve drunk Mulvaney’s Ass Fire” seems both a flippant and opaque retort.
In furtherance of diplomacy, the bulgogi is devoured as delivered—an easy accomplishment, since the sauce’s soy, sesame oil and sugar combo rocks real hard on its own.
The Tofu House would want readers to know they use no MSG and sell kimchi, which would only be news if they didn’t sell it. And, in a classy move, the paper place mats include adverts for Tofu House’s fellow strip-mall compadres. In sum: It is fundamentally wrong—downright sinful, actually—for a delightful person like Jung to be sharing her charm and her restaurant’s culinary gifts with just one person, particularly when it’s some scummy, old restaurant reviewer. See that it never happens again.