One of my favorite Korean dishes is a soup called soon dubu, which is a tofu-based soup with your choice of meat (usually beef) and various vegetables. It can also get pretty spicy, as a lot of Korean food tends to be, but that's perfect for a notorious fire eater like myself. Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn that there was a tofu house in Elk Grove of all places. Accompanied by my good friend and Elk Grove-native, we set out to try out this new (and seemingly ONLY) Korean restaurant in the growing city.
Inside Elk Grove Tofu House, one can't help but notice that it's a pretty decently sized place. There's a front room with about ten or so tables, and a room in the back with a dozen more. Regardless, the place was pretty empty on a Friday afternoon. Having learned from Gardena Ramen however, this isn't always a metric on which to measure a restaurants quality. Upon being seated, we had our drink order taken and given place mats with the menu printed on them by a warm Korean woman. The menu here isn't the largest or most diverse, but again referencing Gardena Ramen, this also cannot be counted to its detriment. Among the items is a decent sized list of various takes on soon dubu: there's mushroom, kimchi, seafood, vegetable, and assorted. Alongside this is the usual fare of bulgogi (Korean barbecue), ribs and salad. I opted for the kimchi soon dubu with beef, asking for a decent amount of spice, while my companion ordered the spicy chicken bulgogi. After ordering, I awaited my lunch with a salivating mouth and a deep hunger-fire burning in my eyes.
Not too long after, the extremely pleasant waitress came out with the banchan. For those who don't frequent Korean restaurants, banchan is basically an array of assorted dishes (akin to appetizers) that come complimentary with your meal. There are different variations of banchan, but they almost always contain: kimchi, pickled radish, sprouts, stir-fried shredded squid, glass noodles with various vegetables and beef, and pajeon, which is a pancake with green onions. I don't want to dwell on these too long, since banchan at most places is really similar, I will say that they represent a wide variety of textures and flavors. Depending on how finicky you are, there will be things you like and things you don't, but take a chance and try each of the dishes and see what you like. Overall, a great start to the meal.
Shortly after making a dent in the banchan, our main dishes arrived. The chicken was still steaming and sizzling on the grill plate, and the soon dubu was bubbling like a witch's brew; proof that both dishes were fresh and carefully prepared. Carefully dipping my spoon into the fiery red soup, I sipped a spoonful of the broth with tofu in tow. I closed my eyes and entered spicy, soupy nirvana. The broth was just the right amount of spicy without overshadowing the flavor of the rest of its parts, even with the kimchi added in. The soft tofu absorbed the bold flavor and exploded in my mouth when I bit gently into it. I had just two small complaints with this dish: one, the beef wasn't that flavorful and seemed like it may have been just a tiny bit overcooked, but not offensively so. Two, the dish didn't come accompanied with a raw egg. At other Korean restaurants, you are served a raw egg which you break and empty into your soup, allowing the soup's own heat to cook the egg and add even more flavor. Barring those two issues though, this was a great bowl of soon dubu and would definitely come back here for this dish if I was in the area.
Next up is the spicy chicken bulgogi. It doesn't take much to describe this dish: just grilled, marinated chicken with green onions served on a hot plate to keep the dish hot and sizzling when it's served to you. Despite the simplicity, it is damn good and extremely flavorful. The marinade they use for the bulgogi is nothing short of delicious, and mixed with the green onions it just comes together and becomes an orgy of goodness. Even though the bulgogi plates are the most expensive dishes on the menu, the amount of food you get is very generous; I had to help my friend finish his plate! If I wasn't so obsessed with soon dubu, I would definitely get their bulgogi. Perhaps on the inevitable return visit I'll try the barbecue rib or pork bulgogi.
All in all, this is a great addition to Elk Grove's dining repertoire, which consists mostly of chain restaurants. Given that this also appears to be the sole Korean restaurant in the city, I can also safely say that it is the best Korean food in the area, but don't let yourself think it's only winning by default. Swing by Elk Grove Tofu House and reward yourself with a steaming bowl of soon dubu and an ice cold bottle of soju, I heartily recommend it!