Like other Korean restaurants, Cho Dang, despite touting itself as a Tofu House, offers a full-on meatfest replete with bulgogi and bibimbop. Cho Dangs titular tofu specialty comes to fore in the ten different soups that comprise roughly half the menu, each of which features soft tofu paired with a different ingredient, such as oysters, mushrooms, pork, and intestines (presumably tripe). Im not particularly a fan of soft tofu, but Cho Dangs soft tofu soup specialty seemed to be somewhat of a departure from the typical Korean restaurant, so I was interested in checking it out.
We decided to order one of their soup and meat combinations, as this seemed the most efficient method to sample each of their potential strong points. We settled on the spicy pork bulgogi and a soft tofu with dumpling soup. We also momentarily considered ordering the fried seafood pancake, but opted instead for the barbecued beef ribs.
Soon enough, the small bowls of panchan, the numerous Korean side dishes that typically turn a Korean meal from adequate to gut-busting, began to arrive. We began with a modest iceberg lettuce and cabbage salad with what seemed to be a vinaigrette comprised of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. The stand-out panchan were the kimchi, of course, and potatoes served at room temperature in a sweet and savory light brown glaze. While most of the panchan were standard, there was one that we had never seen before: thin slices of whitish ridged gelatin, each about the size of a Saltine, dressed with soy sauce, sesame seeds, and scallions.
The soup easily had the most impressive presentation, a fiery red broth, bubbling over with thin pieces of soft tofu, and three dumplings, each of which seemed to be bubbling in sympathy with the broth. Unfortunately, we may have selected the wrong soup to showcase Cho Dangs specialty. The dumplings were somewhat unremarkable in that their contents seemed to be bitter, shredded vegetable. The presence of the soft tofu in the broth is largely textural, thickening the soup into more of a stew.
The pork bulgogi was studded with scallions and interspersed with cabbage, and accompanied by rice still cooking in a hot stone pot. The best part about the stone pot, of course, is that the rice at the bottom is charred and crunchy, a wonderful textural counterpoint to the tender bulgogi.
The sweet and savory barbecued beef ribs practically fell off the bone, and after a few fumbling attempts with chop sticks, we opted to eat them with our hands, rib shack style.
I've not eaten at very many local Korean restaurants aside from the tired presentation at Sorak Garden. Cho Dang is decent, though hardly revelatory and is probably not worth a special trip for those who don't already live nearby. However, I'm not aware of any other Korean restaurants in the area that specialize in soft tofu soups, so it may be noteworthy in that respect.
Visit Cho Dang Tofu House at:
6653 Little River Turnpike in Annandale.
Be sure to call ahead to make sure that theyre open: (703) 642-9898