YD House: The banchan equation

YD House

8979 Folsom Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95826

The Association of Food Journalists Restaurant Critics’ Guidelines says: “Two visits to a restaurant are recommended. Three times are better. Service, food quality and atmosphere can vary, sometimes quite dramatically, from day-to-day.”

All too true. It’s damn lucky for YD House on Folsom Boulevard that such a rule exists because the first visit to this knotty-pine heavy Korean restaurant almost leads to never returning.

The matriarch serving doesn’t seem real happy about much of anything. Sullen might be too strong a description, but certainly her demeanor is well south of anything remotely resembling joi de vivre. The banchan seems slow in coming and is not replenished during the meal, as it should. There is no urgency in bringing water or tea and no refills of either. The bulgogi’s onions, in particular, and the thick barbecue pork slices are cooked so much that little flavor remains. Of course, all this cannot be laid at the feet of the matriarch, but some of the problems can, and irrespective, the caliber of service elevates less than ideal edibles and, conversely, can sour even the most inspired fare.

Recalling the association’s directive, another visit is hazarded. While the woodsy interior is identical, it’s a different restaurant this time. The proverbial yin and yang. This time it’s a younger, longer-haired matriarch in charge, and the difference in attitude is immediately apparent. The banchan—12 small dishes of various appetizers, many utilizing daikon—arrives swiftly. A broth is served with green onions that bite fiercely—an apparent freebie. As are two potstickers that are flavorful enough that no sauce is required. There are even two strawberries provided for a palate-pleasuring dessert. YD’s stature improves sharply through her single-handed efforts, but a restaurant cannot flourish on service alone.

While varied, the banchan largely reflect what’s found at other Korean restaurants along the Folsom Boulevard-Bradshaw Road fulcrum—various samplings of kimchi (fermented veggies) and namul, which in YD’s case are primarily steamed or marinated vegetables. The 12 selections served during the second go-round are superior to the first. There is a killer pickled cucumber with some peppery kimchi sauce on top, a more sedate, green-onion-and-cabbage amalgam, smoky bean sprouts with sesame oil, sweet-and-sour daikon, and vinegary fish cakes with onion slivers. Our server urges use of the requested hot sauce. Now that’s a waitress!

On other visits, the 12 dishes include spicy shredded seaweed, pickled spinach and sprouts in a creamy sauce that starts out sweet and then finishes sour. Several times, crunchy, chewy sardine slivers are part of the banchan equation. Definitely an acquired taste. Daughter Katie’s rule is “better dead than red,” a theory that holds that any banchan with the color red must be spicy. For the heat-adverse, that’s not a bad rule of thumb.

The bulgogi Korean barbecue, as noted above, isn’t memorable. On the other hand, the squid and veggies bibimbap is. The cooked-in-its-stone-pot rice dish is nicely spiced and has a crisp but not charred bottom layer—pretty much textbook preparation. On a third visit, the ever spice-adverse Katie searches for an entree with the requisite sweetness or, failing that, blandness. The severe matriarch from the first visit is again manning the front, so suggestions—helpful or otherwise—are unlikely to be forthcoming. Katie gambles on the barbecue chicken—dak bulgogi—which is honeyed and disappears quickly with only grudging sharing.

YD also offers a number of vegetarian options. There’s vegetarian tofu soup, tofu bibimbap and pan-fried kimchi with green onion. There are also, as any self-respecting Korean restaurant must include, a lengthy number of seafood options, including yang nyum gejang—spicy raw crab—and an gu jjim—monkfish with vegetables.

Still, other Korean restaurants in the area deliver, on the whole, a more pleasurable dining experience.