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Korean Chowdown Report: Dong Baek in San Francisco

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Today five chowhounds gathered at Dong Baek in the Tenderloin to follow up on David Wishart’s news that new management is now at the helm.
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/673022

The menu’s enormous with 120 selections. A separate menu offers 40 dishes at lunch time prices ($6.95 to $11.95), plus there are fixed-price multi-course dinner sets priced from $55 to $120 for parties of three to 8-9 people. Two ladies took care of our table and were quite friendly and solicitous. The new team has been here for three months and used to operate Two Sisters (5th and Clement). At Dong Baek they are offering a much wider-ranging menu, as well as the Korean-Chinese specialties and housemade (machined) noodles they were known for at Two Sisters.

First out was complimentary iceberg lettuce salad with homemade Russian dressing. Then 11 more types of panchan, divided into two plates each, served to each end of the table. We’d had a conversation about the timing of panchan noting that some restaurants serve them with the first ordered dish and not much ahead of that. Here the banchan came out just moments before our rice cakes dish. We were also comped an order of the boiled dumplings served with a sesame-scented dipping sauce.

As described on the (take-out) menu, we ordered:

#4 Oyster Jun (10 pieces), $10.95 – Pieces of oyster, egg battered and pan-fried

#31 Spicy Rice Cake, $8.95 – Stir fried rice cakes and vegetables with hot pepper paste sauce

#45 Heuk Yum So Jeon Gol casserole, small $18.95 – Spicy stew made with black goat meat and vegetables

#60 Al Tang, $11.95 – Fish eggs and vegetables in hot and spicy soup

#108 Gan Ja-Jang, $8.95 – Diced pork and mixed vegetables in black bean sauce over homemade noodles

I’ll ask the others at lunch to fill in the details by describing their favorites and overall impressions of Dong Baek. I’ll have some photos to share later.

Our total tab with tax and tip came to $75 or $15 per person.

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Dong Baek Restaurant
631 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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  1. This was another good meal, and while I generally enjoyed all the dishes, it was again the panchan that made me the happiest, All of it tasted very fresh, with many different flavors and textures. My favorite was kimchee made with what looked like baby choy sum - crisp and delicious.

    I think we ended up ordering interesting and well-matched dishe, thanks to a great group of dining compatriots! Memorable for me were:

    Spicy rice cake. I found the rice cakes to be softer and slightly less chewy than I'm accustomed, and I enjoyed the black pepper that along with the hot pepper paste sauce.

    Goat meat stew. A new dish for me, and I really enjoyed the strong flavor of the broth.

    Oyster Jun. Nicely cooked and juicy oysters. Good ratio of oyster to fried batter.

    Noodles with black bean sauce. I've only had this dish a few times, and this version was comparable. Sauce was a little sweet for me, but that can be remedied at the table,

    Fish egg and vegetable soup. Generally good, but not exceptional.

    Dumplings - a nice complement to what were mostly spicy dishes.

    While I'm not sure I can put Dong Baek on a list of must-visit Korean restaurants in SF, it's definitely worth a visit if in the area. I think it has improved with the new management.

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    Dong Baek Restaurant
    631 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

    1. this was my first chowdown, and i was happy to meet everyone. i enjoyed the meal very much. while i won't say that dong baek is exceptional, the food was all well prepared and tasty.

      my favorite was a new dish to me, al tang, the fish roe soup. the owner indicated that this was her favorite when we ordered it. melanie noted that it seemed spicier than similar soups at other korean restaurants. i did think it had more heat, too. not terribly spicy, but after having so many volcanic cauldrons of korean soup placed before me that fail to deliver heat, i was happy with this.

      the gan ja jang noodles were pretty decent, comforting if a wee bit bland.

      the black goat stew was nothing like the delicious version i had at ohgane this past august, but was tasty enough, with the strong goaty brother tempered with korean perilla leaves.

      dduk bokki, spicy rice cakes, were much less sweet than usual, and the cylinders were heavily seasoned with black pepper as well as the kochujang sauce, which is unusual. i thought it was a good, fresh rendition but i may prefer the more heavily sweetened kind, or am just more used to it.

      panchan seemed fresh enough. the regular paechu kimchi was unremarkable but i liked the kkakdugi, the cubed daikon kimchi. others offered were the tiny dry anchovies, mung bean jelly, shredded kombu, a wakame seaweed in sweet vinegar....hmmm i can't really remember.

      the gul jeon, or panfried oysters were good but i thought the free mul mandu (boiled dumpling) could have used more chive or green onion flavor in the stuffing.

      when i'm in the area and craving a bowl of soup, this is exactly the sort of place i'd head back to. the owners previously ran two sisters, which seemed to focus on korean-chinese food, so i'll likely go back to try more of that side of the menu.

      no complimentary sweet rice punch or ginger cinnamon punch at the end of the meal, and as melanie noted, no melon flavored chewing gum! i'll be back, though i'm still trying to devote time to exploring oakland's korean restaurants.

      1. Not being an expert on the Korean cuisine, I can only offer general observations.

        * The panchan were nice but not outstanding. The standouts were the slippery thick noodles with a mildly spicy red sauce and the very mild crispy kimchee.

        * The oyster jun was interesting, resembling a cross between egg foo young and stewed oysters.

        * The peppery black goat stew casserole was delicious, but I expected a stronger goat flavor.

        * The fish egg soup was very nice and was my second favorite dish of the day.

        * The delicate dumplings served in a small amount of broth and with a sesame dipping sauce were outstanding. The sauce was a bit thin, but the dumplings shone with flavor.

        * The homemade noodles had a wonderful texture but the black bean sauce was noticeably lacking in flavor. I would order these noodles again but either in soup or with a stronger-flavored topping.

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        Dong Baek Restaurant
        631 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

        1. I quite liked the rice cakes (dok bokki). As others mentioned, the sauce was heavy on black pepper and lighter on sugar than other versions I've had, and I liked the difference. The black pepper made the heat more complex, without being covered by sweetness. If only it had thin sliced fish cake as well ... .

          I also liked the gan ja-jang noodles. Saucing was less heavy and gloopy than zha zhiang mien often is, and the mild sauce was a good contrast to the spicier dishes on the table. Good noodles.

          Black goat stew was less of a "strong taste" than our server warned. No funky goatiness, but rather another strong hit of black pepper.

          Overall, dishes were solid. No big misses, and the meal was as good as any I've had in SF, though I haven't tried To Hyang on Geary yet.

          Thanks to Melanie for organizing and to tablemates for educating us on Korean food and language!

          1. i returned to dong baek today for a late lunch. i was curious about the korean-chinese specialties, and ordered #110 Cham Pong, seafood and vegetables with homemade noodles served in spicy soup. i received the same salad with house-made dressing, which i...well, i might beg off on this next time. just not in the mood for iceberg salad with russian dressing when i want korean food. or korean-chinese, in this case.

            the noodles were tasty, if a shade too soft. the broth was pretty decent and had almost enough kick as the vivid red color promised. i have a bit of a cold, and i think my sinuses benefited from eating this. there were several shrimp, bits of squid, a few mussels and half a blue crab floating on top, as well as abundant napa cabbage, onions, zucchini, carrot and wood ear mushrooms. there were thin slices of jalapeno as well. pretty decent bowl of soup noodles. again, not raving about the quality but it was a quick and invigorating lunch before catching a film.

            the kimchi was better today, as it was older and a bit sour. had more character. the radish kimchi i enjoyed again, and there was also dressed broccoli which i didn't touch, mung bean sprouts, and thin slices of danmuji, or takuan, the japanese yellow #5 pickled daikon. i couldn't finish my bowl (others should have no trouble though it is a large serving. i'm just under the weather).

            i think i'll go back soon and try another one of the traditional korean soups.

            1 Reply
            1. re: augustiner

              Thanks for this second report. That's the dish I'd like to try next with the homemade noodles.

              One of the other pluses for Dong Baek for me is proximity to my side of town. I can eat here and not have to make the trip to the Richmond or Sunset.

            2. Sorry to be so late to come back to this conversation. But in some ways, it’s even more enlightening to read my dining companions comments again after some time has passed. I think it speaks to the overall strength of the kitchen that each of us seemed to have picks for best dish. That’s one of the interesting results of bringing together a group of chowhounds to share a meal.

              I particularly liked the al tang. I had noticed the photo of it in the window when I arrived and it was something I’d not tried before so had it high on my list to order. The homemade noodles and the rice cakes were also very satisfying and I’d order them again.

              The service and hospitality here deserves a special mention. The two ladies who waited on our table were comfortable speaking English. They were quite helpful in making suggestions, welcome, friendly and verging on chatty. And they were generous in comping us on the dumplings.

              I agree with “david kaplan” that this was as good a Korean meal as I’ve had within the city limits. As “augustiner” said, I found everything well-prepared and tasty, quite solid.

              Thanks to David Wishart for keeping us up to date on the changes here. Lastly, I’m happy to welcome “davidgi” back to the boards after an absence of some years. His new handle seems Chinese, no?

              Here are the photographs -

              Eleven different panchan served in two sets, one for each end of the table. A nicety for our small party of five.
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              Iceberg lettuce with homemade Russian dressing, a little bit of kick from Korean hot sauce.
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              One-half of the panchan assortment, maybe someone else can ID them for us.
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              Half the assortment of panchan (small appetizers) and #31 Spicy Rice Cake, $8.95 – Stir fried rice cakes and vegetables with hot pepper paste sauce
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              Complimentary mul mandu (boiled dumpling)
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              #4 Oyster Jun (10 pieces), $10.95 – Pieces of oyster, egg battered and pan-fried
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              #60 Al Tang, $11.95 – Fish eggs and vegetables in hot and spicy soup
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              #108 Gan Ja-Jang, $8.95 – Diced pork and mixed vegetables in black bean sauce over homemade noodles
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              #45 Heuk Yum So Jeon Gol casserole, small $18.95 – Spicy stew made with black goat meat and vegetables
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              Dong Baek slideshow
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

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              Dong Baek Restaurant
              631 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

              1. Stopped in tonight with a friend. She ordered the rice cakes with squid (only tried a bite, as I'm not really a fan of the rice cakes or this type of sauteed dish with chili sauce). I had the al tang. As for how I liked it...eh. Is it possible they overcooked the sacs of roe in my dish? I thought they were sort of unpleasantly tough, with a chalky texture. Can't remember if I ordered a similar dish at My Tofu House before but if I did, there was a lot less roe and it was a lot less chewy.

                The highlight was probably the seafood pancake appetizer which didn't really have any crisp to it, but was tasty enough. Thought the banchan were average.