Thinking about feasting this week reminded me of a major dinner I had awhile back at the Dong Baek restaurant in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.
I discover a lot of my restaurants while riding the bus since I don’t own a car. I noticed this Korean restaurant a few years ago while riding the 38 bus in the city, and recently I learned that it’s in the same condo building as my friend Kim.
So I suggested to Kim that we meet for dinner. She brought along two of her friends, and I brought along my other friend Ken so we could order more dishes. (Ken and Kim are also both pescatarians, which are people who eat seafood and vegetables only.)
Walking in, Dong Baek has the feel of a warm Korean eatery where people would stop by for a warm bowl of noodles to get away from the cold Korean nights. But we’re in San Francisco, and this particular night we went was one of the few warm Indian summer nights we were having back in October.
All this played into the food we ordered, which included a new dish for me, the Mul Nang Myun, which is a cold noodle soup using buckwheat noodles with cucumbers, beef and a boiled egg. I didn’t know what to expect when I tried this dish, which the waitress brought with some watered down hot mustard and a bottle of vinegar.
But the Mul Nang Myun had a slightly vinegary tang to the broth that was refreshing and unexpected. While the buckwheat noodles (or soba) was a bit gummy for me, overall I found this cold soup enticing, especially on a hot night.
Another standout was the bi bim bob, one of my standard orders at Korean restaurants. This rice dish with a mixed of vegetables comes typically with beef, but since Kim and Ken didn’t eat meat we got a kim chi version and made sure it came on the stone pot to get the crispy rice on the bottom.
Dong Baek’s bi bim bob came out without the typical hot sauce that you squirt, which I found unusual. But it really didn’t need it because there was a lot of flavor in this bowl, and the freshness of the ingredients made this a winner for everyone on the table.
Some of the other dishes weren’t such a revelation in flavor, like the pork bol go ki that seemed to be muddy in texture and flavor and the egg pancake with kim chi that was slightly soggy.
One thing that unfortunately stayed with me from this feast with new friends was the service at Dong Baek. While the woman who seemed to be the owner (or manager) was gracious, she hardly checked in on us after taking our order. And instead, the other woman (there were very few people working at the restaurant it seemed) who brought the food to our table was brusque, often just forcing the plates onto the table, pushing aside the others to make room as we grabbed them to avoid any spillage.
I enjoyed trying some new Korean dishes at Dong Baek, but I don’t think I would need to go back to get them since the quality seemed comparable to what I find near my Oakland apartment. (The only exception would be the bi bim bob.) Still, Dong Baek does offer the rare Korean offering in a neighborhood filled with Southeast Asian spots and bars.
Rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
Dong Baek, 631 O’Farrell St., San Francisco. PH: 415.776.1898. Open daily for lunch and dinner.