Toyose is way out in the Outer Sunset, Noriega and 45th to be exact. So close is it to the beach I wonder whether folks have taken their orders of Korean Fried Chicken down to the coast, perfect for an evening picnic or twilight bonfire. It didn't hit my radar until the New York Times ran a story on late night eats in San Francisco, focusing on where folks from the restaurant industry tend to congregate after work. We live in the Inner Sunset, but it still took us 10 minutes or so - even late at night on a Sunday - to make it out to the outer avenues. It's a Korean restaurant located in the garage of a residential building and its only distinguishing sign is the one above of a winking chicken. Cheeky and appropriate.
The interior is indeed garagelike and long and narrow, lined in wood with no windows. But the atmosphere is cozy and convivial and though the space is small, it's often filled with groups of young people and you can expect a wait on weekends.
Each table is given a bowl of popcorn to start - I don't think there was anything special about this snack - in fact, the kernels tasted a little stale. But we appreciated the sentiment.
The shoju-yogurt drinks are quite popular, and come in several fruit flavours. We ordered one to try and didn't much care for it - one-dimensional and too-sweet. But its size easily lends itself to sharing, and the little shot glasses proferred with the alcohol help stretch the bottle out among larger groups. This tends to be the case for the rest of Toyose's menu as well. However, what is noticeably different about this Korean restaurant, however, was the lack of banchan provided to round out the meal. The little dishes of seasoned and pickled vegetables, beans, tofu products and fish appear to be nonexistent? Perhaps the portion sizes of the rest of the menu makes up for this absence.
It's the food that really shines at Toyose, and serving sizes are enormous. We loved this dish of spicy pork piled on silken tofu, the delicate pillows providing relief from the powerful flavours of garlic, gochujang, kimchee and marinated meat.
We're also fans of the kimchee fried rice - also generously spiced and dotted with small bits of beef and green onion. The egg on top is of course, perfect and apropos, and you'll also get a bit of nori and seasoned spinach to mix into the rice as well.
Measuring some 14+ inches across, this was another enormous but familiar dish - an egg and rice flour pancake studded with seafood (shrimp and crab) and green onion, seasoned with sesame oil. I would have preferred the egg and flour to be a bit more chewy, but this was a fairly tasty rendering of a Korean staple.
But perhaps the best dish of all for late night, perhaps after a particularly hard night of clubbing and drinking, is our new friend, the Budae Jjigae. Loosely translated, it's "Army Base Stew," created in Seoul, South Korea sometime after the Korean War. Meat was scarce and the canned processed products (spam and hot dogs) from American army bases easier to procure. We - however misguidedly - decided to order this monster to go one evening. DD came staggering out of the restaurant, muttering while lugging his heavy bag. The budae jjigae alone consisted of 2-and-a-half quarts (about 10 cups!) of the fiery broth, in which spam bits, hot dog slices, pork, cabbage and kimchee were merrily swimming away. Separately packed (we got to put the dish together) were slim rectangular blocks of tofu, diagonal-cut thin slices of tteok (Korean rice cake), and green onion. And we received a shrink-wrapped square of instant ramen noodles which we disrobed and placed in a pot with the broth and other condiments. This is not a dish for the heat-shy, but oh, is it gut-bustingly good. Perfect for foggy Inner Sunset nights, or unusually warm San Francisco ones... but only late in the evening - when the mind throws caution to the wind and revels in consuming unhealthy but great-tasting food products.
Thanks to this recipe, we might try to replicate this beautiful monstrosity at home some day...
Note: we've tried their fried chicken, but feel San-Tung's are better. That's a post for the future.
Toyose3814 Noriega Street, San Francisco, CA 94122-3934 (415) 731-0232