William and I have been expanding our Korean horizons. Our most recent foray was to Myung Dong Tofu Cabin on Santa Clara's soon tofu row. I picked it randomly from the Korean restaurants listed in the Chowhound's guide.
The shiny and brighly lit interior looked like it had been remodeled recently. This is a sizeable and bustling place and it took a few minutes before we could be seated. After spotting a close call and near collision between two waitresses carrying scalding hot stone pots and sizzling iron plates, we were glad that we had a table hugging the wall and out of the commotion. The menu is fairly concise, just front and back of a single laminated page. Our best meals have been at specialists, so this was fine with us.
William ordered Kal bi soon tofu jung sik, $14.99, which was a combo of barbecued short ribs and soft tofu seafood hot pot. I tried Hea mool dol sot bab, $12.99, a serving of raw egg-topped sauteed vegetables and mixed seafood over rice in a stone pot.
First we munched on the selection of panchan shown below. At the top of the pyramid was a very peppery and tart water kimchi, the first time I've tasted this. The next row shows the bean sprouts delicately seasoned with sesame oil and lightly wilted and my favorite, the raw squid kimchi. The squid was toothsome yet tender coated with fiery fermented chili paste and blended with slices of fresh jalapeño chilis and marinated slices of garlic --- truly ceviche on steroids. Under that was the cabbage kimchi that was a little too fresh and watery for my taste, a deliciously briny seaweed and scallion scented with sesame, and daikon kimchee that had a nice juicy crunch. Lastly, another bowl of water kimchi and a raw egg for the soon tofu.
I didn't like my dish very much. The rice had a good crust, but the seasoning of the seafood (mostly squid with a couple prawns, a scallop, and one green mussel) and vegetables was dominated by onions and not that interesting.
Luckily, William's order was enough to satisfy both of us. The kal bi were served on a bed of carmelized onions on a sizzling iron plate. The short ribs were expertly grilled with a deeper beefiness and complexity of flavor than we've had in a long time. We thought Totoro in Mountain View did a very good job with this, and while Myung Dong's were not quite a succulent and tender, the flavor here was richer and rounder. The soon tofu was similarly nuanced with lovely silky soy custard that we lapped up with the rice.
What else do 'hounds recommend here?
Myung Dong Tofu Cabin
1484 Halford Ave.
(just off El Camino and Lawrence Expressway)
Santa Clara 95051