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Spoon Korean [Berkeley]

Spoon at 933 Ashby in Berkeley (at 9th st) is a new place open from 8-4 run by the same people who opened Bowl'd. I first noticed it and stopped by this weekend and the very friendly waitress told me they had been open three weeks.
The menu is fairly similar to Bowl'd, but also has a porridge section. I felt like I should try this, as I've never had a Korean version, but my appetite that day guided me straight for the soondoobo. I got the beef version and I really enjoyed it. My previous favorite had been Pyung Chang Tofu House. While in my memory Pyung Chang might have a slightly more savory broth, all the other elements at Spoon really stood out. This is the only version of soft tofu soup where the meat (beef) portion has really stood out. It was a cut suited for long stewing, and cooked until tender and very flavorful. Most of the time when I order sofft tofu soup the meat (or seafood) was an afterthought--thin beef slices briefly stir fried or frozen seafood dumped in whenever, but this beef was truly flavorful and worthy on its own. The banchan also stand out--as many have mentioned the Napa kimchi from Bowl'd is really great--this is mostly because it is always at eh perfect level of fermentation--in the nicely fizzy phase.
I'll be back to try many of the other dishes, as it is close to me. The small bites are always tempting, but too much for my appetite. The fried chicken wings with almonds and the tempura jhap chae are particularly tempting.

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  1. spoon is difficult to spot. it's on the same street as the entrance to berkeley bowl. parking may also be an issue.

    last time i looked, the hours are ?-4 p.m.

    they have selected items daily for grab and go.(priced cheaper than regular menu)

    tried the soondofu, wings, jhapchae, and porridge. everything was fresh, tasty, and had no msg.

    -wings more sweet than juicy

    -portions on the small sde.

    4 Replies
    1. re: shanghaikid

      Former Tofu Yu Deli, across Ninth St. from Wells Fargo?

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Wasn't Tofu Yu in another building that's actually on 9th (next to the BB parking lot)? This is on the other side of the street. Google says 933 Ashby used to be a place called Olive Grove Pizza Cafe.

        1. re: abstractpoet

          Right, it's not the former Tofu Yu, it is on a narrow strip between Ashby and Potter St, and feels more like it is on Potter. It has both indoor and outdoor space, as flavorenhancer mentioned, and the outdoor space is much nicer than I would have expected from such a busy corner.

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          no. opposite tofu yu deli. or directly across.

      2. The Kim Bop at Spoon is quickly becoming my favorite fast food to eat in the car when in a hurry. Rice, fresh vegetables and a choice of meat (or not) all wrapped in seaweeed like a Japanese maki. Sliced into six rounds it makes for a tasty snack on the go. They are on Ashby right near the freeway so could even be a quick pit stop for travelers. They also let your dog sit with you on their cute little tree-lined patio.

        1 Reply
        1. re: flavorenhancer

          I've never had kimbop before, so thanks for posting about it. Two of us shared the chicken and the bbq beef. The beef was great, with red bell pepper and sesame seeds. The chicken was good too, though a bit messy with all the sprouts. Don't think I'd eat it in the car! Looking forward to trying more of the menu.

        2. I am a big fan of Bowl'd. I remember before Spoon opened, someone on this Board (I think Robert Lauriston) worried out loud that they'd be stretched too thin.

          I went to Spoon for the first time today; and I thought that worry might just be well-founded.

          Hard to park (had to go around the corner twice).

          But mostly the restaurant seemed less polished than Bowl'd. Panchan more limited. Flavors in my Bi Bim Bap less bright. They messed up my friend's order.

          The outside tables (which look very pleasant) were full, so sat indoors, in full view of... the dishwasher washing pots and pans.

          A sign by the cash register was one of those "I wish I were on the beach" signs--to my mind, unprofessional humor--and such a different message from Bowl'd, where the servers seem so happy to be right there, waiting on you.

          I'll give it another go, for sure. I wonder if anyone else had my same experience. Everything I've read is very positive, so perhaps I went on an off time.

          1. DH and I have eaten there several times since they first opened. Everything we've tried has been delicious and satisfying. Our favorites of the porridge options are the pine nut and corn. We added beef once but it's not necessary. Have also had their crab cake (not available at Bowl'd), kimchi pancake, steamed egg souffle, shrimp tempura, spicy jhap chae tempura, kimchi stew.

            I don't think the portions are that small. We usually get an order of porridge, two pancakes or small bites or a combination of the two thereof. For under 20$, we've never left hungry.

            Picture 1 L-R: pine nut porridge with beef, assorted banchan, kimchi pancakes (top), crab cakes (bottom).
            Picture 2: entrance of bistro
            Picture 3: kimchi omurice
            Picture 4: Riceplate with spicy pork
            Picture 5: (1) kimchi pancakes, (2) egg souffle, (3-8) assorted banchan, (10) spicy jhap chae tempura (11) pine nut porridge, (12) spicy dipping sauce.

            We've been there weekdays, weekend, early morning, mid-morning, afternoon and have not run into a problem with parking. On weekdays, there is a clinic on Potter Ave that holds a couple of spaces for their patients in front of their door. Other than that, I believe the rest of the parking spaces are intended for the businesses and their customers.

            1. I've gotten kim bap for lunch a couple of times. Good and cheap, $5 to eat in or $4 to go.

              1. I had a new dish for lunch today, cold seaweed noodle salad ($8). Generous serving, nice lunch for a warm day. Came with maybe eight panchan including some really good broccoli stems. Great value.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  were the broccoli stems a thin sliced kimchi version? i thought that was a great way to use that part of the broccoli.

                  1. re: drewskiSF

                    Was there for a late lunch there today and in the mood for soondooboo (soft tofu stew) with mushroom. The broccoli stems were done as you described. I also had garlic stems prepared kimchi style. They had a nice crunchy texture without being stringy.

                    1. re: drewskiSF

                      Broccoli stems were kimchi, yeah. Sliced on the diagonal so it was not clear what they were.

                    1. The servers are great--- really helpful and friendly! The tofu stew I had was piping hot. Just the thing for a chilly overcast day. My only complaint would be that the stew was really salty. I want to go back and try some of the small dishes with friends as shared "tapas"

                      1. Recently had the kimchi soondobu and the regular jhap chae with beef, both very good versions of those dishes.

                        Of the BBQ options, I prefer the spicy pork, but maybe because the cost is the same regardless of choice of meats they served maybe twice as much spicy chicken. Ridiculously huge pile.

                        1. Is the ramen soup supposed to have no broth in it?

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: hungree

                            What did you order? Was it to go. Was something missing? Check menu.

                            1. re: wolfe

                              "Spicy Ramen" with chicken. Not, not to go. It came out in a stone bowl and had literally no broth. Just wet noodles. We didn't like it. The dolsot bibimpap was good, as were the kimbap. The ramen was weird, and I'm just wondering if it was a mistake or if Korean ramen is meant to have no broth.

                              1. re: hungree

                                Seems to me since you were eating there that that was the time to ask. However these images show a range of broth.

                                1. re: wolfe

                                  Yea, well, if a place is going to give me attitude from the get-go (rushing us to order less than 30 seconds after sitting down, telling us with a dismissive laugh that we can't handle spicy when we've been to bowl'd and know that heat to them means flavor with sugar), I'm generally going to give the restaurant benefit of the doubt and not trying to create an uncomfortable situation because the ramen had no broth. Rather come here and ask my buddies on Chowhound afterwards.

                                  Oh and by the way, could barely taste the heat in the Ramen, even though it was promised "extra spicy." I know spicy to some is inedible to others, but come. on.

                                  1. re: hungree

                                    doesn't sound good. on three visits, we never had that kind of attitude

                                    1. re: drewskiSF

                                      Yeah like someone is going to bad service to a guy with a pony tail, beret and pink parasol. Can you imagine the number of bloggers that would react to that sort of snub.

                                      1. re: wolfe

                                        oh, that's just my Rockridge outfit.

                                        and being Korean doesn't hurt either so maybe not good data points.

                                      2. re: drewskiSF

                                        it was pretty crowded... still though, probably won't be back for a while and when we do get the itch we'll drive the extra 2 exits to bowl'd

                              2. re: hungree

                                The menu says "spicy noodle soup with vegetables in beef broth." If I ordered that and didn't get soup I'd have asked the server where the broth was. I think I did order it once and it was soup.

                                I vaguely recall an an off-menu ramen special that was not soup, maybe they accidentally made you that.