The San Francisco Bay Area is chock full of great food. On any given night, I can scroll a never-ending list of restaurants and feel blessed with the overwhelming number of choice.
What San Francisco lacks is Korean food. I think this partially because I was blessed with a great mom who taught me how to cook great Korean food — but it’s also just true: the Korean food in San Francisco, on a great day, is mediocre.
The world’s many great Korean cooks and chefs, apparently, don’t believe in opening up a place in this town. But there are exceptions to every rule and in Toyose, I found a couple of exceptions.
I’d heard of Toyose for a few years, but this place is located so far out to the west side of San Francisco that it’s basically in a different timezone, not to mention climate. This location is mere blocks from the Pacific Ocean, and on most nights, I opt to head in the opposite direction. Hence, with or without good Korean food, I tend not to go to this area of the city and my visit to Toyose was delayed by years.
But about a month ago, I was craving Korean food, didn’t have even one whole green onion to work with in the refrigerator, and it was late, which limited my choices. It seemed a good night to try this place.
The restaurant really is, no joke, inside an old garage that has been remodeled to becoming a long restaurant. The garage doors remain in the front of the restaurant and it is actually rather charming. Upon entering, I did a double, triple take because suddenly, I felt like I was in some hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Korea. Toyose even has the beaded privacy curtains or bamboo shades that act as partitions! We were greeted by a friendly and pretty female server. It was about 9:30 P.M. and the place was about 70% full on a Monday night but we did score one table big enough for four people.
Mr K. was hungry, and I was basically famished, so we had to be extra careful not to order seven items off the menu.
Where Toyose Fails
We ordered exactly three entrees and a bottle of soju. If you’re Korean, you are well aware that some food items go with soju, and others don’t. There is no item that can’t be had with soju, but some things just are not done.
One of the best items to pair with soju is “Dduk Bokki”, pictured above — but strangely enough, this rather easy to make dish is most often horrible at Korean restaurants. This is one of those dishes that are considered to be best off street stands in Korea. In fact, I don’t know what they put in it at those street stands, but when I visit Korea, my day and night will usually end with eating this dish at street stands. While my dduk bokki fails in comparison to that, mine’s not bad but I have a hard time finding any restaurant who can even beat my version.
As expected, Toyose didn’t exceed my expectations; it was bland and boring. The ricecakes, however, were cooked properly; it was the sauce that simply didn’t cut it.
Where Toyose Succeeds
Our second entree was the Spicy Pork. Now this dish bordered on perfection. Tender slices of pork are marinaded in a spicy “gochu-jang” based sauce, mixed in with soy sauce, garlic and ginger — then fried in a pan with onions and mushrooms and served up piping hot. Combined with rice, it makes for a fine meal. It was the ideal amount of saltiness mixed in with sweetness, and the pork was tender and fatty as it should be. This dish, when prepared with lean pork is basically inedible.
The final entree was the Broiled Eel, also called “Jang-uh Goo-ee” in Korean. The sauce was good though it could have used a tad bit more soy sauce, and the eel was good quality eel. It was slightly undercooked — and though I actually prefer it this way — Mr. K was correct in saying that it should be a bit more broiled to achieve a crisper texture to the eel, at least to be considered “correctly prepared”. This dish is also a great accompaniment to soju, and Koreans make a significant dent in the eel population due to an old belief that eel is good for men’s virility. Or so the saying goes.
While the cooking at Toyose was pretty good, it seriously lacked in terms of “ban-chan” or side dishes. While I neither need nor want side dishes, a major appeal for many others who like Korean food is the usually wide array of side dishes that come with the price of one meal at Korean restaurants.
At Toyose, the choices were slim, and each tasted acceptable, though nothing to really rave about in this review. There were only four dishes — which is about four less than the norm, and eight less than the ideal.
But for impressing me on even two entrees, I have to give kudos to Toyose!
Toyose is a small mom-and-pop joint, located at 3814 Noriega Street, opened daily from 6 PM – 2 AM, that offers a small but authentic taste of Korea in San Francisco. The service is friendly, and the decor is quite charming in a Korean-ghetto-fabulous type of way.
The menu items are authentic with items such as pig’s feet, fish soup and bulgogi, along with a myriad of other soju-compatible dishes. Prices were reasonable. Parking is basically simple in this area of the city. On a cold San Francisco evening when I am craving some old-fashioned Korean cooking with a bottle of soju, this is a nice joint to keep in mind.
It’s like stepping into a little dive bar in an unknown alleyway in the outskirts of Seoul.
Service: 7.5/10 Ambiance: 6/10 Food: 7.5/10 Addictive Factor: 6/10 Overall Rating: 7/10