Tofu and kimchi stew.
4229 Convoy Street, San Diego
It's probably best to make something clear up front: I am not reviewing the popular Convoy Street restaurant Tofu House. I visited a different establishment named Convoy Tofu House.
Okay, they're both on Convoy, both Korean, and each has the dubious judgment to think the word tofu is appetizing.
Hiding in plain sight.
Anyway, plain-old Tofu House is the one next to O'Brien's Pub. This one — Convoy Tofu House — is on the east side of the street, south of Balboa. I'd call it easy to miss, except it's got a three-story sign that towers over all the adjacent shopping strips.
Each tofu house is named for the dish sundubu jjigae or — as the menu kindly points out in English — soft tofu stew. I'm rarely a fan of tofu on its own merits; I usually see it as a paltry meat substitute that, improperly prepared, offers all the charm of eating a cosmetic sponge.
Nevertheless, if it's worth naming multiple restaurants after, I figure there must be something I'm missing.
Certainly that something's not the décor, which gave a bit of a cafeteria vibe. A shoji screen in one corner separates it from the sushi counter next door, and another corner had been taped over with a sheet of brown plastic. I'm assuming renovations, either recent or scheduled for the near future.
None of this stopped the place from being at capacity, by the way. A number of families lined up at long tables, sharing short ribs and eating from steaming stone pots while a couple different sporting events played on wall-mounted TVs.
When sipping becomes awkward.
It didn't take long to be seated by the friendly staff, though service came a bit slower with the rush. The banchan tasted all right, though I might have been distracted that my drink was served in a short glass with a long straw.
I guess I wasn't entirely enjoying myself until the tofu stew arrived. The stew comes in a surprising number of varieties, including tuna, wonton and vegetable. I went with the kimchi option at $9, which adds ground pork and mushrooms to the mix.
It's served at a boil, possibly just so you get the pleasure of cracking a raw egg into it and watching it cook. I'm not even sure it matters whether you stir it in or just let it poach.
I was more taken by the tofu, anyway; it was like eating half melted noodles in a rich, spiced-to-taste broth. This is not the soy curd of stir-fries, wraps and salads. As an added bonus, this particular tofu stew may double as the best way to eat both tofu and kimchi.
When it comes to being a tofu house, this Convoy one might not look like a winner, but it's sure earned the right to hang that big sign up over Kearney Mesa.