I am helpless against the addictive power of gochujang , that fiery, fermented chili paste that is an essential element of Korean cuisine. Accordingly, we recently visited Beverly Soon Tofu, a local standard- bearer in the hitherto unknown (to us) world of soondubu jigae, the beloved red stew, catalyzed by the chili paste and filled with uncurdled tofu and sundry other tasty vittles.
Located in the de rigueur anonymous strip mall in K-town, BST’s English signage curiously reads Beverly Tofu House. Once inside, BST charmingly attempts to conceal its Olympic and Vermont location by decorating its walls with wood-like cut-outs that attempt to evoke some mythical, tropical Korean idyll. (Instead, they just reconfirm the awesomeness that is the Town of K.) The tables take the form of bisected tree trunks, and the backless seats are ersatz stumps. The illusion is broken only by the massive posters advertising Bokbunjajoo Raspberry Wine and what I will only assume is the deliciousness of its fashionably Alize-esque flavors.
The food, unlike the design, is serious business, as is the demeanor of its presiding grandmotherly practitioner. (Miss Bird took a particularly liking to her, giggling gleefully in her Graco as the old woman loudly tore sheets of plastic bags from a giant roll. Was it the sound that tickled our baby’s fancy? Or was it little Miss Bird’s knowledge that this woman knew the score?) Our meal began with an assortment of carefully prepared and delicious small plates, the banchan. I enjoyed all of them, but two were standouts. The kitchen gave each of us an amuse-bouche of silky, sliced coins of white tofu perched in a bowl of delicate soy/sesame oil sauce, and strewn with finely chopped green onions and grated dry seaweed. This beautiful and sophisticated creation, neither spicy nor sweet, had an airy effect that set the stage for the more vivid flavors to come. Texturally, it was a little slice of heaven, the tofu melting softly on our tongues. I also was quite taken with the kimchi of cubed daikon radish and its sweet, tangy chili sauce; the complexity of the spicy sauce’s flavors elevated this tiny dish of kimchi beyond the realm of simple comfort food.
But we were here for the stew, and I am pleased to report that this majestically red and hearty creation had an addictively robust flavor. I especially liked the iteration with kimchi and beef (though I did not care for the oysters, which were slimy and vile). It’s hard to ignore that the mild-mannered, but dependable tofu it is a worthy counterpoint to its friend, the soondubu – the Ackroyd to the stew’s Belushi, if you will. Upon serving the sizzling bowls of stew, the server cracks a raw egg into the teeming melange; however, I found that the additional fat slightly undermined the dish’s austere appeal. Marisa, befitting her sagacity, was grossed out by it, and therefore smartly declined the egg. I also enjoyed our accompanying platter of sautéed spicy squid, which, lo and behold, was served in a spicy chili sauce with some onions. The dinner was such a hit that we visited BST twice in three days – once on “date night” and again a few days later with Miss Bird. We can’t wait to go back.
Beverly Soon Tofu Restaurant
2717 W. Olympic Blvd.