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San Francisco Bay Area Palo Alto

Tofu House, Palo Alto: with a logo like this...

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Tofu House, Palo Alto: with a logo like this...

David Sloo | Nov 23, 2005 12:31 PM

A branch of Tofu House, which several months ago replaced Sun Tofu, on El Camino in south Palo Alto, offers a small selection of large servings at high but not exorbitant prices.

Many of us remember the short-lived Sun Tofu for its stark red sign with white letters and logo and its fine soft-tofu hot-pots. Not to be outdone, Tofu House has a bright yellow roadside sign featuring a dropsical looking soybean wearing a poofy chef's hat.

The trilingual menu (a few entries are in Korean and English only, without Chinese) divides the meal offerings into soft tofu, bbq (bulgogi), and bibimbob.

The bibimbob (with seafood, bulgogi beef, bulgogi pork, or vegetables and beef) and the tofu dishes are served in distinctive, sizzling stoneware pots. As you stir the bibimbob, the ingredients cook and you are virtually guaranteed a crisp rice crust at the bottom.

The meals come with four to seven side dishes, most notably the fine cabbage kim chee and occasionally good sprout-, potato-, or bean thread pickles. Sides included a bowl of miso soup at my last visit, and the non-rice plates usually include a covered bowl of nutty, purple rice and beans.

Portions, including the side dishes, are generous. The ingredients taste fresh and are evenly cut and presented, although I have not found any consistency in spiciness when ordering one of the listed heat levels. Standard red chilli sauce is provided in a squeeze bottle.

The soft tofu stews, particularly with seafood, are the most houndly offerings. The House's tofu is tender and slightly nutty, and the hot pots are filled with a rich stew and diverse ingredients. They constitute fine comfort food for those of us who dream of hearty village cooking on a crisp autumn day along the coast outside Busan -- even those of us who have never ventured beyond Incheon aiport.

I am pretty sure that several dishes, including "Tofu Salad" and "Vegetable Soft Tofu Tofu" (sic) hot pot, and some of the sides, are vegetarian, although I did not ask.

On the plus side, from a chowhound's viewpoint, are the spartan decor and perfunctory service. We're in it for the food, not for well-trained servants.

(No doubt there are people out there who lack an olfactory center but are attuned to quality sommeliers and busboys. They should, by all means, pay to be waited upon at the Ritz-Carlton, and they should take along one of us who can enjoy the food.)

Lunches at Tofu House start at $8 and dinners run to about $11.50.

Tofu House, 4127 El Camino Real, Palo Alto. (650) 424-8805.

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