I don’t make it to Koreatown very often anymore. An ex of mine used to live there, and I’d rather not revisit those memories. Of course, when Josef Centeno was the chef at Opus, I did occasionally override my aversion. (Incidentally, I can’t wait to try Centeno’s new place, Lot 1 in Echo Park, and I hear he may still be chef at the upcoming Latin restaurant downtown called Casa. The more Centeno, the better.)
In any case, my Koreatown famine ended a few days ago when I had to visit the Chinese Embassy to get a visa for my trip to Hong Kong and Beijing next week. My visa adventure coincided with the lunch hour so I stopped off at Beverly Tofu House on Olympic, just west of Vermont. Lucky pick.
With valet costing just $1.50, I knew this was going to be a great deal. Beverly Tofu is an odd little spot resembling a woodsy cabin inside and out. It’s decorated with family-style picnic tables, with legs made from logs and hard wooden benches for seats. The attentive servers start you off with lovely Korean banchan: tiny bowls full of pickled cucumbers and turnips, a potato dish, cabbage floating in a bowl of spicy water, bean sprouts, spicy kimchi, which is fermented cabbage, and, of course, their signature tofu dish. The tofu was so delicate and ethereal, it was impossible for this Westerner to eat with chopsticks. Fortunately, they provided a spoon.
I ordered the seafood combo soon tofu, which is a steaming hot stew that arrives at your table popping and sizzling and spitting like a volcano about to erupt. Because this was my first visit, I ordered it medium spicy, which was perfect for my palate. It was loaded with tiny unshelled shrimp — heads and all — oysters, clams and mussels that tasted like they had just been snagged from the sea. The server cracked an egg right at the table and plopped into the center of the stew, which was so hot it cooked the raw egg on the spot. Watching those around me for guidance, I scooped out a few spoonfuls the stew into a little steel bowl full of rice, mixed it in and then took a bite.
Delicious. This meal was hearty, spicy and warm. I filed it away mentally as the perfect dish to have the next time I catch a cold. There was so much food, I couldn’t finish, which is rare for me. I’m sure the banchan is meant to be shared. Despite the vast quantities of grub for someone lunching solo, the meal was still light enough not to make me feel over-full. The kimchi, by the way, was wonderful, and you can buy it to go.
I’m not sure I’ll be going out of my way to drive from Venice to Koreatown very often, but the next time I find myself back there, I won’t hesitate to revisit this spot. –Jenny
Beverly Tofu, 2717 W. Olympic Blvd., 213-380-1113.