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please go to To Hyang [San Francisco]

v
vulber Jan 16, 2013 11:07 PM

the fact that even despite all the press and everything that our party was the only party in the whole restaurant tonight from 8pm on, worries me significantly - not sure how much longer they can stay open with so little business.

and honestly, i don't quite get it - the food here is unusual and delicious - yes, perhaps a tad more expensive, but nothing obscene.

we had:
yuk hoe/raw beef - as expected, delicious - loved the contrast of the raw mean with the pear/ginger/garlic
fermented soybean soup - can definitely taste the fermentation in this - very unusual
kimchi pancake - best i've had.
pork belly salad - i think this is a dish they made up - but nonetheless, nothing like generous pieces of pork belly mixed with raw vegetables tossed in gochujang
oxtail with dates and chestnuts - again, very unusual but delicous combination of flavos
bulgogi - perfectly fine, nothign special.
soondobu - not the best, very good.
mackerel - meh.

banchan wasn't as extensive as i'd heard (plus they charge for refills), but still very good.

the only other korean restuarants in the city that are in this league are toyose and yakiniq, in my opinion, and those are both totally differnet from what to hyang is doing.

i really hope we don't lose such a special restaurant, but go soon regardless.

  1. jillyju Jan 17, 2013 12:07 AM

    San Francisco?

    1. Cynsa Jan 17, 2013 01:15 AM

      3815 Geary Street
      (between 2nd Ave & 3rd Ave)
      San Francisco, CA 94118

      (415) 668-8186

      Hours:

      Tue-Sat 5 pm - 10 pm

      Sun 5 pm - 9:30 pm

      1. d
        dunstable Jan 17, 2013 07:32 AM

        Similarly I walked past a few months ago and it was completely empty. Not a single diner. I think it's hurting them that it's surrounded by a half-dozen other Korean restaurants. One of those Richmond Korean restaurants should swap locations with a Mission taqueria; everyone would win.

        1. killersmile Jan 17, 2013 11:37 AM

          can i ask why the food is unusual? it seems like standard korean food to me.

          4 Replies
          1. re: killersmile
            v
            vulber Jan 17, 2013 12:11 PM

            i haven't seen yuk hoe anywhere else, nor the oxtail dish. they ferment the soybean paste themselves, which makes that different from any other version i've had, and there's something about the kimchi pancake that makes it far better than other versions.
            unfortunately i was with a somewhat conservative group so we didn't get to try some of the really unusual dishes like the goat stew, pork neck, croaker, or even the house-infused soju.

            some banchan i hadn't seen before that we couldn't identify.

            1. re: killersmile
              Robert Lauriston Jan 17, 2013 12:51 PM

              Chris Cosentino took Anthony Bourdain there, they had some dishes that I haven't seen elsewhere.

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdsbCL...

              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                d
                Dude Swenson Jan 20, 2013 01:01 AM

                Here's a video of another local chef, Ravi Kapur (of Liholiho Yacht Club, formerly of Prospect) enjoying To Hyang. He says the oxtail with dates is his favorite.

                http://www.vice.com/munchies/ravi-kapur

              2. re: killersmile
                r
                Radical347 Jan 24, 2013 03:17 PM

                They have a lot of dishes that aren't so ubiquitous among K-restos & these are the ones that they excel at. In addition to the Yuk Hwe (raw beef), Pork Belly Salad, So Kori Jjim (Oxtail w/ dates & chestnuts) that vulber mentioned, there's also Jogi (half-fermented kingfish), Dak Dori Tang (savory chicken stew), and others. Their bibimbap has a couple of unusual ingredients too (fernbracken, bellflower, sesame oil)

                In addition, she does not take the easy way out or use prepackaged anything. Their fermented soybean soup is made from paste that she began fermenting many years ago when she owned a restaurant in Korea. She makes her own soy sauce. If you look out the bathroom window, there are jars in the backyard where the soy sauce, paste, kimchi, etc. is fermenting.

              3. w
                wanderlust21 Jan 19, 2013 06:23 PM

                Just chiming in to increase your sample size. I was there last month. It was not full, but there were at least three other parties having dinner.

                We had the pork neck soup and the sul lung tang, both were good. I agree with you that it should be busier, especially during the winter when their soup dishes (jjige) hit the spot.

                1. r
                  Radical347 Jan 24, 2013 03:19 PM

                  I remember when it opened in 2008 to little fanfare. Best food ever, but I usually had the entire restaurant to myself.

                  After it was featured on Bourdain's show, it was impossible to get in. Totally packed. It's sad to hear that it's quieted down again.

                  I agree that it's in a whole 'nother league from virtually of the Korean restaurants in SF. I haven't tried YakiniQ yet but it's on my list now.

                  1. tpc Jan 24, 2013 06:33 PM

                    I had not heard of this restaurant before, vulber, so thanks for the tip. Throughout the years I've dreamed about the raw beef with raw egg yolk and julienne pears dish that I had at an excellent chowdown organized by Melanie a while back, wherein Melanie snapped this photo at the Sigoljip Korean BBQ in Santa Clara back in 2007:

                    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/192/474648921_7b4b4e13c9.jpg?v=0

                    From looking at photos of To Hyang's version on Yelp, it looks like theirs doesn't have pine nuts, which I think really makes the dish. If you look on Sigoljip's Yelp page, there is talk that the restaurant has changed owners and retooled their menu, and I can't seem to find any more references to raw beef or Yook Hwe (To Hyang transliterates theirs as Yuk Hae) past 2008. A shame really, I'm sad to hear that To Hyang may be the only restaurant in the Bay Area where one can find this dish, and maybe not even as good as what it could be.

                    Link to the 2007 Sigoljip Korean BBQ chowdown:

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/396036

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: tpc
                      Robert Lauriston Jan 24, 2013 09:27 PM

                      I've had yuke hwe at Ohgane in Oakland a few times. They use pine nuts.

                      http://www.ohgane.com/m_app.pdf

                      Jong Ga House, Sanh Maru, and Sura all have it, too.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                        tpc Jan 26, 2013 05:00 PM

                        Robert, you never fail to amaze me with your expansive knowledge of restaurants and food. Melanie is one of the most prolific food reporters on this site, and I admire her fearless spirit, but you are an unsung hero. I've gone to the online presences for all the places you mentioned, and have confirmed they do indeed have the very dish I crave. It seems Ohgane does list pine nuts as an ingredient, but curiously, the picture they have in their menu doesn't seem to contain any (if the pine nuts are there, they must not be whole, or maybe they are well-hidden in the mound of meat).

                        Sura transliterates the name of the dish as yukhoe, Sanh Maru as yook heh, and Jong Ga House as yuk hwe. Thanks for the tip.

                        1. re: tpc
                          Robert Lauriston Jan 26, 2013 05:05 PM

                          They might have dropped the pine nuts, a lot of places did after accidentally serving the bad Chinese species that causes Pine Nut Syndrome.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                            tpc Jan 26, 2013 08:37 PM

                            I just got off the phone with Ohgane, I spoke with a male, possibly in his 20s or 30s, may have been ethnically Korean, as he spoke with a slight accent and responded appropriately when I delivered the traditional Korean greeting, and he confirmed that Ohgane no longer puts pine nuts in the raw beef dish we have been discussing in this thread. He said they did before, that's why it was listed as an ingredient in the menu, but no more, and he did not give a reason (I did not inquire further). So it looks like if you, like me, crave this dish with pine nuts, you're out of luck in the Bay Area.

                            The idea just occurred to me you could purchase some pine nuts, lightly brown them, and add them to the dish at the restaurant or at home, which makes me wonder why someone at the restaurant couldn't do this. I looked up Pine Nut Syndrome on wikipedia, found this (I had not heard of this syndrome before, and had not suffered any of the described symptoms, even after eating the aforementioned dish in 2007):

                            "The Nestlé Research Centre has hypothesized that nuts from a particular species of pine occurring mostly in China, Pinus armandii, is the cause of the problem. The suspect species of pine nuts are smaller, duller, and more rounded than typical pine nuts. A 2011 study found results consistent with this hypothesis and also suggested that chemicals used in the shelling process might be responsible...The FDA is currently investigating 'Pine Mouth'."

                            1. re: tpc
                              v
                              vulber Jan 27, 2013 04:00 AM

                              seems like pine nuts is generally an optional topping to this dish

                              1. re: tpc
                                Robert Lauriston Jan 27, 2013 08:59 AM

                                Yeah, many restaurants dropped pine nuts after the first time customers complained.

                                It's pretty clear that the culprit is pine nuts of the P. armandii species, found only in China (though exported to Europe and packaged as "product of Italy" or whatever) and not commercialized until recently.

                                http://pinenutsyndrome.wordpress.com

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                  Ruth Lafler Mar 9, 2013 01:50 PM

                                  The fact that pine nuts have become ridiculously expensive might also be a factor.

                      2. ckshen Jan 24, 2013 10:52 PM

                        How does To Hyang compare to the cluster of Korean restaurants in Santa Clara?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ckshen
                          r
                          Radical347 Jan 24, 2013 11:10 PM

                          To Hyang is better, in my opinion. But in general, Santa Clara has better Korean food than SF.

                        2. pane Jan 29, 2013 05:02 PM

                          Hey, vulber, have you considered setting up a Chowdown if you have the time to do it? Might encourage some people to go who haven't been before and will return if they like it.

                          1. k
                            kevin Feb 5, 2013 08:24 PM

                            From what you guys have posted, this sounds like a very interesting Korean restaurant, much different than the do it yourself bbq, noodle, or tofu joint.

                            oxtails with dates ? that almost doesn't even sound korean, very interesting, and possibly mid eastern.

                            hopefully there's a website.

                            where in SF is this as I'm not completely familiar with SF.

                            it's only open for dinner ?

                            how are the prices, like how much are the dishes you listed above ?

                            thanks. hopefully i can visit soon. do they happen to have any good fish dishes too ?

                            thanks a bunch.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: kevin
                              b
                              bigwheel042 Feb 6, 2013 02:21 AM

                              "Dates" - actually jujubes - are common in Asia, though I've never had this dish so I can't say whether To Hyang uses jujubes or true dates.

                              To Hyang is in the Inner Richmond at 2nd and Geary. They used to be open for breakfast/lunch/late night but have since cut back their hours, probably because business was slow. Prices are moderate - the special dishes listed above are higher than their typical menu. I've had the grilled mackerel and thought it was very good.

                              1. re: kevin
                                v
                                vulber Feb 6, 2013 04:33 PM

                                was talking with a korean friend recently and telling her about this place and the food, she was saying that this type of food, particularly dishes like the oxtail dish, are more "rustic" or "country" food which is why they're not too commonly seen.

                                1. re: kevin
                                  drewskiSF Feb 7, 2013 08:17 AM

                                  the oxtail dish sounds and looks like (Yelp pics) a variation on Galbi Jjim, or braised short ribs.

                                2. d
                                  dunstable Feb 7, 2013 11:04 AM

                                  It really wouldn't kill them to spruce up the place; it looks like a hole in the wall. Which I guess is what it is, but it's quite austere on the inside, like eating in a classroom.

                                  1. pane Mar 9, 2013 01:32 PM

                                    Dave and I went last night with a group. We shared the fermented soybean soup, kimchi pancake, pork belly salad, spicy mackerel and oxtail with dates and chestnuts.

                                    The pork belly salad portion was huge--I don't think our group of six could even manage half. I was expecting a "salad" as in cold meat strips mixed with some veggies, but it was baby lettuces, marinated vegetables, and big slabs of pork belly at the bottom.

                                    We asked for our food to be spicy; the waitress suggested that we downgrade to medium spicy. We did and I'm glad--medium was quite hot, and we had to order beer during the pork belly course to tone it down.

                                    Kimchi pancake was simple and awesome, great flavor and crisp-tender texture. Fermented soybean soup was excellent, very filling, robust umami flavor, slick hunks of tofu.

                                    I liked the oxtail better than others--it was sweet, which I think turned people off, but to me a nice counterpoint to the deep fermented flavors of much of what we ate.

                                    The only thing that really didn't sit with me was the mackerel--I'm not sure I've ever had this fish before, but it had a pronounced, heavy, fish-y flavor that wasn't for me.

                                    Banchan was good--did see the note on the menu that they charge to refill, and the spread was maybe 20% less extensive than other korean places in SF that I frequent, like Muguboka.

                                    Painfully full at the end for $18pp including drinks. Good value for an excellent meal.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: pane
                                      f
                                      Fine Mar 9, 2013 03:45 PM

                                      It's a common misapprehension that beer calms a chile-tinged palate; actually, the alcohol makes it worse. Bread, rice, yogurt are among the soothers,

                                      1. re: pane
                                        k
                                        kevin Mar 9, 2013 06:19 PM

                                        18 dollars per person with drinks ? That's pretty cheap. You can't even get out of TGIFridays for that price.

                                        1. re: kevin
                                          Dave MP Mar 9, 2013 07:50 PM

                                          To be fair, we didn't drink very much. Just two large beers for the table....many tables of 6 could probably drink 4-5 of these, though that still wouldn't be adding much $ to the bill.

                                          I agree with pretty much everything pane says. The pork salad was an unusual dish, and I'd never tasted anything like it before. The dressing was sweet but also very spicy. It was actually a bit too spicy for me, and I would have eaten much more if it had been slightly milder.

                                          I also liked the oxtail a lot, and it wasn't too sweet for me, either. Banchan had a very homemadelooking...nothing flashy about them, simple but solid.

                                          The soybean soup was great. It tasted like the broth was made with meat, though I'm pretty sure that was just the heavy umami notes. I also liked the kimchi pancake.

                                          Overall, I agree that it was a great meal and we tried mainly dishes that I'd never ordered at Korean restaurants before. I'd definitely return

                                          1. re: Dave MP
                                            k
                                            kevin Mar 9, 2013 10:17 PM

                                            I'll have to check it out and the price is really cheap for such unique Korean food.

                                            1. re: kevin
                                              Dave MP Mar 10, 2013 10:20 AM

                                              Yes, looking forward to hearing what you think! The dishes we got were all pretty big portions, so you can pretty safely order 1 thing per person at the table and it would likely be enough.

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