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May 5, 2008 09:21 AM

Casserole House (Korean, Oakland)

New place where Korean Kitchen used to be, down the block from Sahn Maru. Space has been nicely redecorated, better lighting than most Korean places.

House specialty is “casseroles” (jungol / jeongol / chon’gol), meat, seafood, and/or vegetables stewed in water or broth (like Japanese yosenabe or sukiyaki) in portions for two or more cooked at the table in electric skillets, which the health-conscious owner said was made of surgical steel ("no poison"). The skillets are large so prices are listed as for two people. The kitchen tends to undersalt things, but there's a salt cellar at the table to adjust.

Went for a late lunch yesterday with a friend. Panchan of 9-10 dishes, standouts were a leek salad with sesame dressing and a hot, crisp vegetable pancake (needed salt). I wasn't crazy about the kimchi, which had an unusual floral quality.

We ordered a casserole ($30) with beef (bulgogi), spicy octopus, and dumplings (mandu). After we adjusted it with hot pepper paste (which we had to ask for) and salt it was delicious. We stuffed ourselves and had a fair amount left over.

Service was a little scattered but they only opened May 1. No formal hours posted yet but the owner said she'll be open until 11 or midnight daily. Liquor license due from Sacramento any day.

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    Casserole House
    4301 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

    1. did the pancake not come with a dipping sauce?

      2 Replies
      1. re: augustiner

        No dipping sauce. I don't think I've ever been given a dipping sauce with pancakes served as panchan.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          really? was this like a pajeon? jeon should usually have a dipping sauce. just curious.

      2. I went back to this place--we had eaten a heavy lunch, were in the mood for a light dinner, and I figured the seafood jeongol would be just the thing, which it was.

        One of the ingredients was a kind of shellfish I'd never had before, a tough, leathery pouch the size of an olive. When you bite into one, it pops and squirts out some briny, earthy liquid. The owner said most people spit out the rest, also that for Koreans "if you don't eat that you don't feel like you ate seafood." What the hell did we eat?

        7 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I queried my first gen Korean friends/family about this. They all knew exactly what you were describing, but none could put it into English.

          Oh, and they all HATE it.

          1. re: samse

            Thanks. Could you get the Korean name for me?

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Robert, I'm told by several friends the Korean name is mee duh duk. One of them who just arrived from Korea this week for a one month visit told me that he liked it, but was dismissive when I related what the owner told you. Tastes, of course, vary within all cuisines.

              1. re: samse

                After further research, I think in English it's called "sea squirt."

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  All you wanted to know about Sea Squirt but were afraid to ask.

                  1. re: wolfe

                    I have eaten these in Korea. Definitely sea squirt. "Bilge in a grape."

                2. re: samse

                  No, the korean name for sea squirt is mon geh (not sure how to romanize)

          2. We had a very good lunch here today. I had the Kimchi chi gae which came in a huge stone pot bowl, a very generous serving. The soup was not quite on the thick side, like my friend said it should be, but I didn't mind, and the broth ends up thickening as you eat it. The broth wasn't too spicy, but had a nice kimchi flavor. It came with big cubes of tofu, slices of pork, whole leaves of kimchi, scallions, and onions.

            My friend had the Yuk kae jang (again, huge serving) and I actually favored his soup because of the deep beefy flavor. I also liked how the broth was thickened from the egg bits.

            What impressed me the most was the fresh panchan and the service. We were the only ones there the whole time we ate, but they gave us more than enough seconds on the panchan and the owner and staff walked by several times to make sure we were happy.

            I think the kimchi must have gotten better from RL's initial visit, because this was the best kimchi I've had in a while. They even brought out a less fermented kimchi for us, saying they wanted us to try it. I actually liked the ripe full flavored one best. The other highlights were the radish kimchi, which is similar to Seoul Gomtang's big sliced version; the anchovies, which were moist and slightly marinated, different from the plain dried ones at other places; and the marinated fried tofu.

            One of the staff noted that they are now open until 2am, serving soju I would assume, so looks like the liquor license is in.

            26 Replies
              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Yeah, the only other time I've had this soup it was equally thin. I remember in the Gigul Gigul post, 'samse' asking if the chigae was thick or thin.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  You're right and that's the trouble. Just as you can find encounter many versions of, say, clam chowder that disappoint you, I find many disappointing versions of kimchee jjigae. DezzerSF's friend is absolutely right, in a perfect world it should be thicker. But, hey, even a disappointing version's better than none at all. Thus far, Ohgane offers the only "thick" version I have found up here, but I'm still looking for one in the South Bay. This, by the way, is why I end up going to specific restaurants for specific dishes.

                  1. re: samse

                    If you want it thick, order kimchi soondobu jigae, or go to a place that specailizes in soft tofu, like Pyung Chang.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Thanks, close, but it ain't the same. I do like Pyung Chang. My CPA's just on the next block.

                    2. re: samse

                      What goes into a thick chigae? Is it miso?

                      1. re: daveena

                        Kimchee jjigae is all about SOUR kimchee. When it's thin, the cook has probably added water to extend it. Additional thickness/richness comes from the amount of pork fat used. My God-daughter's mother, first gen. Korean and SF Culinary Academy grad, has spoiled me with her homecooking.

                        1. re: samse

                          Fat is liquid at the temperature jigae is served. Unless there were some sort of binding /emulsifying agent, it would be floating on top.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            You're right, Robert, I should not have used the word "fat" but, rather, simply "pork". I'm no cook but I suspect there's something in there that might act as a binding /emulsifying agent - just what I'll have to ask the cooks.

                            1. re: samse

                              More meat makes the broth richer but not thicker. The bowl could be just so full of meat, vegetables, noodles, etc. that it ends up more like a stew.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Maybe it's collagen, from a stock made with a lot of pig feet, or other connective-tissue heavy pieces? That would give the fatty mouthfeel, but it wouldn't separate out from the broth.

                                1. re: daveena

                                  Jigae's usually made with light broth or even water.

                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Right! Closer to stew consistency is the way I and most Koreans I know prefer it. Sautee pork, pour off most of the fat, keeping some to taste. Add sour kimchee, gochu jung to taste, a little sesame oil and what ever else you want (pinch of sugar, duk, yam noodle, tubu, etc.) and water - how much determines the consistency/thickness and affects the perception of richness. The more water that is added, the farther it goes and the thinner it is.

                                  Korean friends have cooked this for me where it was almost drier than a stew, not even recognizable as a stew, but it was delicious nonetheless. I never look a gift horse in the mouth . . . especially the homecooked variety.

                                  1. re: samse

                                    I've never had jigae with gochu jang, but that would definitely make it thicker. Did you mean gochu caru?

                                    1. re: DezzerSF

                                      Gochu jung is the ubiquitous red hot sauce you find in Korean cuisine. Sweeten it and you've got cho gochu jung which you (I think/hope it was you in a recent post) tasted in the bibim nang myun. The spellings and names get a bit messy when you try to convert Korean to English, not that I can speak, read or write Korean.

                                      Thickness is mostly affected by water, either added or inherently present in the sour kimchee. Whether or not you drain off the kimchee "juice" or incorporate it when cooking/sauteeing/simmering has significant effect on the taste and thickness, as you would expect. Kimchee jjigae is one of those universal dishes that can be as simple or complex as the cook wants to make it and, since culturally it's evolved from a homemade dish, can vary wildly. That said, however, most Koreans I know prefer it thick and spicy. I know just enough about Korean food, culture and the restaurant biz to be dangerous to myself and those around me (I'm the Korean equivalent of the Chinese ABC). I know you've done this before, but maybe we should organize a lunch at Ohgane and I can persuade Korean friends or maybe even the owner, Mrs. Oh, to be there to answer questions.

                                      1. re: samse

                                        Casserole House's owner said young Koreans love the version of jungol packed with American ingredients such as hot dogs, spam, and cheese. I've seen that called "Army camp" jungol. I'm not sure what it's called on the menu but it looks very stew-like.

                                        The version of kimchi jigae I make at home (from Allisa Park's "Discovering Korean Cuisine") to use up over-aged kimchi is made with just water and kimchi liquid.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Yes, I get a big kick watching what the young ones are doing. I've always wondered if it starts in Korea and makes its way over here, or it simply starts here with the ilse and ise generations. The popularity of spam in Korean and Hawaiian popular culture might have derived from the American GI, but has really taken off on it's own. Sorry - non sequitur.

                                          By the way, I've been threatened with grievous bodily harm the next time I'm caught throwing old, ripe kimchee away.

                                    2. re: samse

                                      I had a tasty version at Sahn Maru for lunch today. I would say it was thick in the sense that the soup part was opaque red, not at all translucent from watering down, but at the same time it was not thick in the Western stew sense of actually being less than a free-flowing liquid due to starch or collagen or emulsification of fats.

                                      9 panchan today were fresh and flavorful.

                                      1. re: twocents

                                        San Maru is a great place. I don't know why I don't get into there more often. I've always enjoyed the food and the service there. One dish they serve, can't remember the Korean name, I can only describe as steamed bulgogi. It's like a mix of bulgogi and sweet(er) jap chae which is cooked at the table. Beside the wonderful flavor of the dish itself, the treat here is to eat spoonfuls of rice which have been dipped into the sauce that pools at the perimeter of the cooker. I don't know if they still offer jampong (seafood and noodles in a spicy soup) and ja jang myun (noodles poured over with black bean sauce) there. At one time they used to offer a 50-50 split bowl, quite unusual.

                                        Just next door is a Korean owned sushi restaurant (Kansai???? formerly Sai Sai). It's a competent sushi restaurant that offers hwe dup bab - sashimi, shredded leaf lettuce, rice and tobiko with cho gochu jung (sweet hot sauce) mixed in at the table to taste.

                                        1. re: samse

                                          Koryo Ja Jang (across the street) offers the split bowl of jampong and ja jang myun, it's called the jam ja combo.

                                          1. re: DezzerSF

                                            Wow, thank you! I haven't been to the Koryo noodle place for about a year I guess. Wasn't aware they offered a combo. Have you tried their gan poong seo (fried shrimp w/ spicy sauce)? It's great in combo with the jampong. That combo makes me sweat.

                                            1. re: samse

                                              Mmm.. fried shrimp? Haven't tried it but sounds good. I've only had the JJM alone, the combo and the homemade boiled mandoo (good). I really like their jampong, spicy shrimp broth with noodles, shrimp, mussels, and strips of squid.

                                              I've tried YuYu down the street for JJM, and there it's more of an unadulterated black bean sauce. They reportedly use handpulled noodles, but I found the noodles to be similar to Koryo's.

                                              1. re: DezzerSF

                                                You know your stuff! My Korean friends all agree that Yuyu has better ja jang myun and Koryo has better jampong. Gan poong seo is different as well.

                                        2. re: twocents

                                          Thanks to augustiner and dezzersf for the replies below on price. I visited Casserole House for their kimchi chigae, and found it to be quite tasty as well. It is somewhat thinner than the Sahn Maru version- a little more translucent in the spoon, but I did not consider that too be a negative. Comparing the two I would not say that there is any big difference in kind of thickness; Sahn Maru is just thicker. CH's chigae had more and larger bits of pork and was overall a larger serving, I think, but I personally give the flavor edge to SM, which uses thin slices of pork belly, but has less firm tofu than CH. It's also a dollar more on the lunch special, whereas CH's is 8.95 on the regular menu.

                                          I enjoyed the panchan, particularly the special radish kimchee discussed elsewhere in this thread, and I liked their fish cake a lot too.

                                          Service was extremely friendly, and the interior was fairly pleasant, especially compared to the former forbidding exterior. However, it's clear they're still learning the ropes, as no one really checked if I wanted a refill of tea, or if I wanted some water.

                                          I look forward to returning to try more items.

                            2. re: samse

                              Try the jigae at Choi's Kitchen in Santa Clara, I thought it was quite thick and tasty.

                          2. re: DezzerSF

                            I forgot to mention that I liked the sweet rice dessert drink here better than Gigul Gigul's version. It had a nicer rice flavor, and not as sweet.

                          3. Realizing that the ride from the 24th st. BART to the MacArthur Bart is ridiculously fast and easy, i came here for a late lunch today. I ordered the yukkaejang, the spicy beef soup with shreds of tender brisket, kosari fernbraken, slippery tangmyon noodles, green onions, and drizzled egg white. while not as spicy as other versions, it was good. the broth was rich, with a thin sheen of chile stained oil beads. it looked much hotter than it was. i was taken by the kosari, which is usually sold dried here or reconstituted in korean markets, and is usually dark brown, but these were finer strands that were still green, and more toothsome. sometimes people overcook the dried stuff and it gets unpleasantly mushy. i will probably fail when i try to upload my photos, but if it works, you can see it in the bowl. the egg was just set in the hot broth, and never got tough. the beef was very tender and flavorful. i hate it when you get it dried, stringy, and desiccated, despite it floating in a hot broth. this was well made.

                            it came with seven panchan: dressed broccoli (blah), standard kimchi, except it also had the stems of young radish greens along with the expected napa cabbage, mung bean sprouts (fine), pan-fried tofu, strips of dried radish in a spicy dressing (one of my favorite panchan of all time), chonggak or bachelor kimchi, made with small, long bell shaped radishes, and strips of fish cake. my favorite was the chonggak kimchi, which they thankfully cut into small pieces, because the whole radishes can be somewhat awkward to eat.

                            there are wooden boxes at each table containing spoons and metal chopsticks. While many people might find steel chopsticks difficult to maneuver, i appreciated this detail. it's classier and all those disposable chopsticks are so wasteful. I think i saw disposable ones by the counter if the metal ones are too slippery for some.

                            the shikhe, or the fermented sweet rice punch that came with my check was refreshing, and not overly sweet like many other versions. it also only had a few of the spent rice grains floating on the bottom. they may be traditional, but i've never liked their mushy texture. i strain them out when i make it at home. i ordered a pa jeon, or green onion pancake to go. the bart ride home made it lose any crispiness it might have had, but it tastes fine. and, mr. lauriston, ordered a la carte it came with a dipping sauce. i still find it odd that as panchan there would be none. maybe it's because i always make a point of ordering a pajeon. i guess i will just have to eat my way through oakland's korean restaurants to find out. something for me to look forward to.

                            i'm already planning on dragging friends over there to try a cheongol, probably the seafood one, but maybe the beef innards one.

                            unfortunately on the way back i had to pass some insane person who seemed to be guarding a stretch of sidewalk and would rush up to you and spout gibberish. i should've blasted him with kimchi dragon death breath.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: augustiner

                              What differentiates chonggak from kakkdugi? Is it just size?

                              1. re: DezzerSF

                                Chong Kak uses smaller radishes, maybe the size of a small cucumber pickle, often with the stem still attached. Kkakttugi is from a much larger type of radish, and usually cut into small cubes or chunks.

                                The radishes used in Chong Kak, might be younger versions of the radish used in Kkattugi, but I'm not sure.

                                1. re: Humbucker

                                  i don't think they are the same variety. i think chonggak are shaped like very small butternut squashes with greens, but about the size, as you say, of a pickle.

                                  1. re: augustiner

                                    In English they call that "young radish." I believe the regular radish kimchi is made from daikon.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Actually, the varieties grown to use in chonggak kimchi are different than those grown for size, but yeah, in the end, size and maybe texture are the only differences I can discern.

                                      The stew-like texture comes from the kimchi and meats breaking down in the liquid (water/kimchi juice/whatever). If it's thin, I feel like they either didn't cook it that long or they skimped on the ingredients. However, if it tastes good to you, who cares.

                                2. re: DezzerSF

                                  For an unsweet treat, try ordering min uh jjim, steamed sea bass in (somewhat spicy) sauce. A-gu jjim, steamed monk fish in sauce, will do and is easier to find. When you're done with the fish, mix rice and kakkdugi into the sauce and eat with a spoon.

                                3. re: augustiner

                                  I had the Yukkaejang for lunch yesterday and this time it was much spicier than when my friend had it. I think the inclusion of jalapenos in the soup gave it the extra kick. I also noticed the stew was more orange in color than red when my friend had it, probably the chili oil. Also, the egg whites were in a solid mass rather than drizzled, which I liked since you can get a spoonful of egg in a bite. I must note that I really enjoyed the rich brisket flavor of the stew.

                                  My friend tried the short rib soup, which I forget the name of. It wasn't kalbi tang, but a longer name that starts with a "w". He really liked it and polished off the whole bowl.

                                  Panchan were mostly different and the kimchi is still very good. They have a habit of giving us 2 different kinds of kimchi when we go, and the kind owner noted that she made it herself.

                                  Place is getting fairly busy, with 4 other tables occupied during our lunch.

                                  1. re: DezzerSF

                                    I had the yukkaejang the other day late after being turned away from Koryo ("we close at 11" huh?!?). Really good, especially liked the inclusion of the ferns, and really enjoyed the beefiness of the broth. We also had spicy pork, I prefer more agressively seasoned versions but nevertheless it was very good, and overall the dish really called attention to the care taken in its preparation. Actually, that goes for everything I've had there. I was told that they close at 12am unless they run out of too many things. I am really liking this place a lot.