Despite some avg to somewhat on the down side of reviews on ba.food newsgroup regarding Kaya Korean BBQ & Tofu, I went today during lunch to check it out to judge for myself
I went in there with the expectation that it might be a decent soon doobu type of tofu place, when the decor turned out to be way better than expected. One section of the restaurant was strictly for cook at the table Korean BBQ, and the other side for sit down cooked food straight from the kitchen. Sadly the decor was the only wow factor to this place.
A flat widescreen adorned the wall, showing the Japan vs Brazil world cup (Korean TV coverage). Ordered the soon tofu beef and pork (a wee bit pricey $9), and also an order of Kalbi lunch ($11).
After about 10 minutes, the kim chi arrived(there were not that many tables, but I was quite surprised at the delay). Unfortunately there were only 5 items and they were not only small in quantity, but a few were on the salty side. One item included a potato salad that didn't even belong there. There was only one boiled spinach dish with sesame seed that was non spicy, and the rest were spice ladened more or less.
Could it be that the potato salad and spinach (horenso gomae) were leftovers or extras from their sister restaurant Aya Sushi? :-(
The soon tofu was ordered as non spicy, and the soup base was rather bland. The tofu was soft but didn't have that silky like texture similar to those at the Palo Alto Tofu House restaurant, or Cherry Maki inside Kuhje Daly City/Colma supermarket (which has better kim chi as well). The Kalbi was a bit chewy and dry, lacking the sauce that seems present in other kalbi dishes. $11 is not too bad for a kalbi lunch, but portion wise was smaller than places that charge $13 to $14.
I suppose that if you want the best deal and flavor in kim chi (and variety) go to Korea House in Santa Clara where the portions are generous and the quantities are great (so is quality). I would also plug the marinated spicy cabbage kim chi (pao cai) at San Tung on Irving, which I think is one of the best.
While I'm happy to see a Korean place in the Peninsula other than the BBQ restaurant in San Bruno/north end of Millbrae, it is still far behind places like Korea House or Tofu House in Palo Alto (which offers much better value and tastier soon tofu dishes). Perhaps Kaya has other strengths, but I'm not ready to invest further to see what they might be (how good can it be if they don't have the basics down...especially the kim chi).