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Apr 15, 2007 09:36 AM

Oakland: Korean food on Telegraph for novice?

I live near Telegraph and 36th St. There seems to be dozens of Korean eateries in a 10 block radius from my house. Yet I haven't tried any, in part because I'm not sure of the differences in types of restaurants (I'm guessing, but there seems to be the barbecue type ones, and the soft tofu ones, and then from there I'm not sure). So, for a Korean "virgin" like me, what would you recommend between, say, Grand and 51st on Telegraph? (I'm fine with spicy, and I eat meat.) Thanks!

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    1. re: Melanie Wong

      I had the Dukboki with squid (Duk bok um?) lunch special at Lee's and it was quite good. I like how they served us a free veggie pancake to start. The panchan was decent and fresh, but I prefer more "kick" to them. The napa kimchi wasn't at all fermented, just hot sauce on cabbage I believe. Still, I agree, this would be a nice introduction to Korean as they have a wide variety of dishes to choose from.

    2. My favorite is Ohgane on Broadway at 40th. I can never remember the Korean names of the dishes: my favorites include a spicy grilled pork, frozen shaved beef salad with pears, "boiled down" fish, grilled mackerel, and a dish with two kinds of noodles, one like wonton and the other thick and very chewy. Personally I don't do the DIY any more, they do a better job in in the kitchen.

      On Telegraph, I like Korean Kitchen. It's a one-woman operation so things could be slow if there was more than one party, but we've always had it to ourselves. She's very nice and would be happy to explain things. She intends it more as a soju bang (a kind of bar to hang out and drink soju) than a restaurant. I like the hot dried squid and the spicy pork. Open very late.

      Explanation of soju bang:

      Pyung Chang for soft tofu and rustic ambiance.

      Sahn Maru for black goat stew for two or more.

      Panchan to go from Koreana Plaza.

      Some more recommendations:

      8 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Sahn Maru is very beginner friendly. Very nice people who will make sure you stir up your dol sot bi bim bap, etc. if you appear to be on the brink of making an error.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          The dish with two kinds of noodles sounds like Dukboki with another noodle, the thick chewy one being rice cake. I've actually been trying to find that dish as Dukboki (sauteed rice cake) is usually served on its own. It's spicy, sauteed with fish cake, carrots, & onions. Does that sound like the dish you're referring to?

          1. re: DezzerSF

            I think it might be duk man doo gook. Dumpling and noodle soup. I get it quite a bit at Ohgane when I'm not leaning spicy.

            1. re: lexdevil

              That sounds like what I had. They have another dish or two with rice cake only.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Interesting. Never had rice cake in a soup.

                1. re: DezzerSF

                  They do two soups w/ rice cake. The Dduk Man Du Gook includes dumplings. The Dduk Gook is just rice cakes. You can also get Man Du Gook (dumplings, no rice cakes) or Man Du Kal Gook Su (dumpling and noodle soup, only on the lunch menu). Beef, seaweed, green onion, and egg are the other ingredients in all of the preceding.

                  1. re: lexdevil

                    I just tried Dduk Man Du Gook at Kiwajip in Fremont and thought it was an excellent non-spicy soup. My favorite part was the broth, is the flavor mainly from seaweed? There was a difference with the rice cake as it comes in slices in the soup, rather than whole (cylinder shaped) in Dukboki.

                    1. re: DezzerSF

                      I've seen a number of recipes that rely on flavoring from the boiled beef, but the soup at Ohgane doesn't have a noticeable beef flavor (though it does have beef in it). The seaweed is added at the end, so I don't think that's it. Based on the color and mild flavor, I'd say the broth at Ohgane is chicken. I have seen a few recipes using chicken stock as well.

        2. Sam Won (26th and Telegraph) is pretty friendly, and is often listed here as one of the good places (along with Koryo and Jong Ga). Either Kal Bi (short ribs) or Bi Bim Bap (beef and a fried egg on top of veggies and rice) are good starter dishes, quite approachable. Sam Won's panchan (small dishes, usually of pickled vegetables) are nothing exciting, but are a decent introduction.

          9 Replies
          1. re: merle

            Koryo generally doesn't get top marks here. What do you like there?

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Plus their servers can be downright surly, so probably not a good place for a newbie.

              1. re: bernalgirl

                I've been to Koryo a lot of times in the last decade or two and I've never seen them be surly to anyone. I think it's a misunderstanding.

                1. re: choctastic

                  I've only been there with Korean speakers who knew exactly what they were ordering, and we've laughed at how surly and unhelpful the staff is. Glad to hear others haven't had the same experience.

              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                I'll take the bait on Koryo.

                Spicy Pork BBQ, cook at table. Girlfriend likes playing with fire, and they really do it up with the charcoal there. A big pile of charcoal, and a burly guy carrying it in. None of this namby-pamby gas stuff.

                I'm not sure I've had anything else on the menu. The little-dish selection (what's that in Korean - nam?) is fairly good, about the same as Oghane, more selection than Shan Maru.

                But I'll admit it's a sentimental favorite, being the first Korean I'd had. And I've never, ever had bad service. With Koreans, as with most of the world, a big smile, open heart, and polite questions go a long way. Koryo is faded now, and the meat's not the tip-top highest quality, but it's good, quite good. When I want to have nice relaxing PILE OF MEAT, that's my spot. I feel far more relaxed at Koryo than any of the other places.

                I second all the other notes here - like the rest of you, I head to Ohgane, Sahn Maru, and Pyung Chang. It's all good. I would likely rate in that order for beginner-friendly, although the first time I ate at Ohgane, they were concerned it would be too spicy for white-guy-me. I found this terribly funny, because korean food ain't hot.

                Pyung Chang does have pretty cold service, and I find the rustic tables problematic - they're so big across that it's hard to have an intimate conversation. Hard to quibble - the food is excellent and cheap.

                OP - my mind is somewhat boggled at the idea of living in that area and not eating Korean. Dive in, dude! Start with places with high Yelp listings and don't be shy. Korean does have some DIY love, but even Pyung Chang will show you how to scrape the crusty rice bits off the side of the stoneware bowl in proper style.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  i ate at koryo a few months ago, and had the spicy pork as well. i meant to eat at sahn maru with a friend, but they were closed. let me preface by saying that sahn maru was supposed to be the beginning of my exploration of oakland korean restaurants, because the SF ones i've been to are just lacking (granted, i haven't made it to han il kwan or a few others. it's maddening how difficult it can be to get friends to commit to a korean dinner, even if they all seem enthusiastic. phew...anyways). i couldn't remember the addresses of any of the others on my list, and we were starving, so we went to koryo. note to self to always check the hours and days of operation for any restaurant.

                  in any other situation i wouldn't say i had a BAD meal. but i had coerced a friend to drive us from SF, and our meal was just so....egh. the twaeji pulgogi was too sweet and the meat was mushy. the green onion pancake came with no seafood, despite what the menu said. it was pretty good, crunchy and savory, but completely devoid of seafood. panchan was unmemorable. actually all i can remember is this cold, soggy, prefried tempura-like fritter of shredded vegetables.

                  i honestly am not a stickler for service. i don't mind indifferent, surly, or slow service, as long as i get what i order, but koryo is just depressing. i realized that i had eaten there years ago, and i wasn't surprised that it didn't stick in my mind.

                  basically i would dissuade anyone from starting out their korean journey at koryo. you could pluck it up and place it on geary in SF and it wouldn't make a ripple. but please, to the OP, share your experiences elsewhere in oakland. i'm about to resort to blackmail and violence to get my kimchi-loving friends to go with me to the east bay to explore the other places.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I'll dodge by saying that when I was starting to get into Korean food a bit over five years ago, Koryo got absolute raves here. Aside from the "if you don't go with Korean people the service is bad" (which is a valid and good complaint!), I had heard little against it.

                  If Koryo is in disfavour these days, I'll certainly drop that off my list.

                  1. re: merle

                    I think the quality of meat has gone down hill. It sometimes verges on gross. I do, however, like the real coal fire. The price is smelling like it afterwards.

                    1. re: merle

                      service at many korean restaurants can vary widely depending on the presence or lack of koreans in your company. wouldn't hold that against a place if they had great food. i just don't think koryo does.

                      but, if this is a place where you first started to explore and enjoy korean food, maybe you should pay them another visit, and compare it with your current assessment of korean restaurants in oakland. that could make for an interesting post.

                3. Your query is well-timed. There is a chowdown at Ohgane (see Robert's post below), on Friday 4/20, which will have a varied menu (being carefully selected as I write) of traditional pancake and other appetizers, pan-fried dishes, hot pots, barbecue in various forms etc., spicy and not, all well-executed. You can go to the ebchowdown group on Yahoo groups, then to the evite for the Ohgane event.

                  1. I went to Oghane Saturday night and had a fantastic meal. We ordered the kalbi with bibim nam myeung and bulgogi for the tableside grill. In addition we had the seafood pajun, spicy squid with noodles, and yook geh jang (shredded beef soup). They also comped us dan jang chigae (tofu miso soup). This place was packed and bustling and by 8pm, there was a wait for a table. Everything was excellent especially the tofu miso soup, which was rich and hearty. With 2 large Hite beer, the tab was $100 for four people. The service was friendly and efficient and the owner (I think?) came by to help us with the grilling and ladling the soup to be divided.

                    However, my personal fave is still Sahn Maru because I love the homey atmosphere and the owners, who are sweet and attentive. Plus I think they still have the best kim chee stew. Oghane is great for table side grilling but it has a cafeteria feel to it and the back room feels like you're eating in a church basement.

                    I also like Pyun Chung Tofu House. Great for soft tofu stew and their nam myeung is better then Oghane. Also, I think they have the best pan chan. They only serve like 4 pan chan but it's always different it's country style home cooking. However the service can be surly at times.

                    And I am not a big fan of Koryo. Haven't been in years but the last time I went I found it to be dingy with terrible service.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: lucymom

                      The front room at Ohgane is pretty nice, I always ask to sit there. The back feels like a completely different restaurant. Interesting to know they get full, I've never seen close to half full.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I often see them packed out w/ large parties.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          We were at Ohgane on Friday night, a party of 8. We walked in around 8:30 and got seated right away. We had 2 Koreans do the ordering (which was way too much), and the grilled meats were terrific as usual. Chigaes were good, as well as the raw crab pan chan which scared a few people at the table. Plenty of food for all 8, plus Hite and soju, and the tab was about $30 per person. It was pretty busy all night, but they finally threw us out at closing time.
                          Anybody know what happened to Lucky, that interesting Korean place a block up from Kansai and Sahn Maru? I ate there a few times - it's now a Vietnamese pho place. Lasted only a few months, I think.

                          1. re: pablo996

                            I think the place you're referring to used to be called Luxury. My wife and I ate there a few times, and really liked it. We were leaving Sahn Maru the other day and noticed the sign had changed, so she jogged in and asked the person what happened. The owner apparently didn't really want to talk about it, but said they changed over about a month or so ago. Glad to see the Yang Nyum Chicken was still on the menu, though. Whew!