4229 Convoy Street, Clairemont
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.
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.
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.