Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Sept. 23
Cauldron of Flavor
The name Tofu House is mildly misleading, as this Korean restaurant on Convoy in Kearny Mesa is not fit for vegetarians. Though extra-silken tofu can be found in each boiling pot, most selections come with some kind of meat, and most all of the broth (save for one or two vegetarian options) is meat-based. And the more ingredients thrown into one of these personal spicy brews, the greater depths of flavor it will offer.
The menu features over 30 variations of sundubu jjigae, or spicy, soft tofu stew, and that's not including the countless others, as you can request modifications to any mixture, or create one from scratch by ordering the "As You Wish" option.
Upon sitting, your server will deliver a set of four banchan, or side dishes: spicy kimchi, spicy cucumbers, pickled dikon radish, and sesame-flavored tofu with onions and carrots,.
On the table is a basket of eggs -- this is important, as it is customary to crack one egg into the pot that is served with still-boiling broth. Many diners mix the egg into the simmering liquid, but my habit is to use my spoon to created room for the egg (which David helpfully cracks for me, as my hands are busy with the spoon), and let it poach. I come back to it later, when it is mostly cooked and infused with the spicy broth, and then I scoop it out, and eat it with my rice.
A creature of habit, I always order the same thing: Boiled Gyoza Tofu, spicy level three out of four. In this pot, there are three big gyozas, as well as beef and pork. I love the flavor the beef and pork add to the mix, but I always pick out the meat bits and put them in an empty banchan plate (I've got texture issues -- it only took one bite of gristle over a year ago to make me forgo any more meat chewing attempts here).
I order the "brown" rice, which is actually purple, and served with peas.
David's favorite is the Boiled Chicken (spicy level 2 out of 4), which has a fresher pepper flavor, as it contains bell peppers, as well as mushrooms, onions, and carrots.
Note: this stuff is still BOILING when it is served. It takes a while for it to cool. Sometimes, while waiting for the broth to reach a non-molten state, I'll begin by spooning a gyoza onto my rice, and slowly biting away at it, being sure of course to blow on every spicy lava bite before it goes into my mouth.
Tofu House is one of my favorite go-to lunch spots. I can be found here several times a month, enjoying a boiling cauldron of super-spicy flavorful goodness.