I’m not really the best person to be reviewing Korean restaurants as I’m not Korean, have never been there, have never dated any Korean girls (for more than a night or two), and beyond the occasional batch of kimchee or bibimbap have rarely cooked it. Perhaps I should have solicited the advice of my pal and K-town expert Mattatouille, but time was pressing and my father needed, nay demaded, tofu. My Dad had expressed interest in the now-defunct Tofu Villa in West LA, and the only similar restaurant we (Regina and I) could think of was Beverly Soon Tofu in Koreatown. Maybe Matt could have steered us to some new, stellar, unheralded place, but BST is an old standby. A couple of decades ago BST introduced Los Angelenos to this particular subset of Korean comfort cuisine, embodied by the much-loved soon dubu jjiagae (soft tofu stew). Now I may not have an encyclopediac knowledge of Korean food and I have nothing to add about the authenticity of flavor or food preparation at Beverly Soon Tofu; however, I know a good restaurant when I eat at one. And Beverly Soon is a good one. This stalwart K-town favorite is as good as ever.
I’ve eaten at Beverly Soon Tofu three times, and it’s been an pleasure each time. The specialty of the house is soon dubu jjigae (soft tofu stew), a robust and hearty preparation of silken bean curd cooked over high heat in a metal or earthenware crock with some rich broth, vegetables, loads of garlic and red chilies, and well as assorted seafood, or beef, or kimchii or some combination of the above. The dish is brought to the table boiling angrily and emitting clouds of pungent vapor. When a raw egg (as it always is) is cracked into the stew, it spits volcanically like an angry Krakatoa. It’s an exciting dish, and soon tofu wins presentation points for sure.
My most recent meal at BST was with eating-partner/wife-extraordinaire Regina, my sister Laura, her husband Mike, their precious little Felix (barely four months old), and my father David Gray, who has become somewhat tofu-obsessed in recent years, a condition perhaps accelerated by his forswearing of red meat. Dad loves tofu, especially Japanese fave age dashi tofu, but also favors Thai curries with tofu and crispy cubes of fried tofu with soy and a bit of chili paste as a dipping sauce. Regina, Mike, and my sis have been to Beverly Soon a bunch of times combined, and we all thought Dad would dig it. The man needs his tofu!
The place is small, a bit cramped, but has a simple (and very deliberate) rustic charm that speaks of (perhaps) a Korean mountain cabin or country pub. Tables and chairs are made of rough-hewn wood. It’s tight and packed with diners, but the atmosphere is comfortable and convivial. On a recent weekend night we dined early, which I certainly recommend. At 5:45 PM seating was not an issue, but by the time we left an hour later people were waiting eagerly for tables.
Regina and I ordered a combination of a small-sized Seafood Soon Tofu with Bulgogi (grilled marinated, thinly-sliced rib-eye on the bone) on the side. Dad ordered a Vegetable Soon Tofu, and Laura and Mike each got a bubbling cauldron of Beef and Kimchee Soon Tofu. We all ordered the spice level medium, which is hot enough for most of the general populace, but not extreme enough for me. I ended up needing some K-town chili paste in mine.
Directly after placing our order, our server (pleasant and efficient) brought us a little amuse, a little freebie starter of some pleasantly cool silken tofu in a mild soy sauce with sesame seeds, sesame oil, minced scallions, and shredded nori.
Next to hit the table was a wave of six different preserved veggies, tonight’s banchan: crunchy salted cucumbers, nicely spicy cabbage kimchee, daikon kimchee, some blanched and lightly-seasoned soy bean sprouts, a simmered potato with sesame in a mildly sweet sauce, and a shredded diakon-carrot quick-pickle. Korean restaurants are judged by their banchan offerings, and these, like the restaurant as a whole, were fresh, plain, and tasty. Nothing radical or unusual, just solid fare crafted impeccably.
We grazed appreciatively on the banchan while waiting for our tofu. They arrived maybe three minutes later, with little fanfare but much drama.
Hot cauldrons all hit the table. It all smelled richly delicious. Raw eggs were cracked into the pots. Little Felix (still on Mommy’s milk) gazed at the action with a look of baby bemusement. Dad’s response is below.
We all dug in, swirling the raw egg into the stew, thereby thickening the broth and adding a nice lushness on the tongue. We spooned the tofu and the sauce over bowls of rice. The seafood version was deeply robust, spicy, briny, and dense with flavor. Cooked with the tofu were manila clams, small shrimp cooked in the shell, and an oyster or two. The sauce was fantastic, the tofu mild and creamy and falling apart. It’s Korean comfort food at its best — homey, honest, flavorful as all hell. Very tasty.
Dad’s veggie version had zucchini, daikon, and mushrooms. Mike’s and Laura’s had bits of beef and kimchee. The bulgogi was nice but characterless. It was great over the rice, but had little flavor of its own except a middling beefy char.
The menu has more options like other grilled meats and a stone-bowl bibimbap, but I’m not sure I’ll ever try them. For the time being, I’m just stuck on their hot lava tofu.We had a fun meal! The food was enjoyable and a little out of the ordinary. The tea and beer were light and refreshing. The conversation was…not exactly profound but casual, relaxed, familial. Dad pronounced his meal “very interesting food”. Beverly Soon Tofu 2717 W Olympic Blvd Suite 108
Los Angeles, CA 90006