Are the prices at San Francisco’s Jijime too good to be true?

I was in the Richmond District today and was looking for a bite to eat. A friend recommended Jijime to me. Jijime is a Korean restaurant that can also be described as Asian fusion since they also serve ramen and various Japanese dishes and appetizers.

I was thinking about ordering the Katsudon, a long-time favorite dish for me that I scoped out before my visit, but the waitress informed me quickly after seating that it was not available. The seafood pancake was also not available and clearly whited out on the menu. No matter – I decided I would move instead towards the bulgogi bowl ($12.95) and the okonomiyaki fries ($6).

Okonomiyaki Fries at Jijime restaurant in San Francisco's Outer Richmond area.

Okonomiyaki fries have become popular nationwide as a starter in Japanese pubs and trendy spots, but usually are underwhelming. That was not the case at Jijime. The fries were actually the best part.

Crispy and perfectly cooked, the texture and cut was similar to a McDonald’s french fry (recently named #1 by LA Times Food) with kewpie and katsu sauce mixed together. Yum. I was in love with these fries and devoured every last bite. The bonito flakes on top was a nice touch. I would order this again for sure, maybe with some other appetizers.

Bulgogi Bowl at Jijime in San Francisco.

Now the bulgogi. The bulgogi at Jijime was the disappointing part of my meal. It took quite some time to come out and when it finally did the actual serving of bulgogi meat seemed small and fluffed up by a huge amount of plain salad and white rice with noodles attached to the beef. The plating of it made it look even worse with large pieces of green lettuce covering most of the bowl (I actually pulled some out for my photo so it would show up in the shot).

The marinade for the bulgogi was sugary sweet and stomach acid reflux inducing. Restaurants that are catering to American sweet tooths will normally do this, but I don’t feel like it has become as common these days and especially not at an independent Korean restaurant. The actual cut of meat was fairly cheap and tasted like every bulgogi I’ve ever had at an All-You-Can-Eat Korean BBQ restaurant (which I intentionally don’t order to avoid it), except this portion was not unlimited.

Of course – the price for the bulgogi at Jijime is affordable at just $12.95 so I can understand that you can’t expect a great cut of meat for that price point, but to be honest I would rather be charged more and have a better cut of meat ($16-21 is standard in Florida) and actually like the meat than to pay less and be disappointed.

There were a number of things I wanted to try on the menu at Jijime and the ambiance of the restaurant is very welcoming and perfect for catching up with friends or a date.

Service was satisfactory, although I did find it a little odd that my waitress did not know what samgyeopsal is when I was asking about their pork belly dish and the taste of it. Her inability to explain the dish made me shy away from it.

Jijime also seems to be a nice spot to have a drink so that may be something to explore in the future. For now, I’ll just say that the okonomiyaki fries are excellent and that the bulgogi is completely disappointing and I will not order it again. I’ve had better bulgogi at restaurant chains and corporate concepts which is sad, but true. As the old saying goes: “you get what you pay for”.

Restaurant Name: Jijime

Cuisine: Korean, Japanese, Asian Fusion

Neighborhood: Outer Richmond

Address: 5524 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

Phone Number: (415) 221-5353

Cost: $$

Website: http://www.jijime.com

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Restaurant News: Sa Ri One Sushi & Korean BBQ now open in Brandon

Sa Ri One Sushi & Korean BBQ is now open in Brandon. It’s been open for a few weeks now. I stopped by today for a bite.

The restaurant is in the old S Bar location next to Burlington Coat Factory on Adamo Dr. (State Road 60).

The inside has been changed dramatically and it now has a blue lounge feel in the Korean BBQ grilling area and the bar area of S Bar was changed into a dining room and bar for general Korean dining. The facility lost plenty of its charm in the transition, but there is certainly plenty of room inside.

I visited the other Sa Ri One BBQ in Hillsborough a few weeks ago out of pure curiosity for this new location and was not impressed with what I found there. The side dishes were bland, my server was inattentive, and the Korean BBQ meat was not very good and expensive (~$30 vs. ~$20) compared to competitors in Orlando like Izziban and Korea House.

I still wanted to see how this location was though.

Today – I decided to stick to the basics and order a soup from the menu. I had the Galbi Tang for $14.95. Galbi Tang is a beef short rib soup and perfect for this kind of rainy weather. My server Jinah was very friendly and she kept up on the refills for the ban chan and was a complete 180 from my experience at the other location.

The ban chan (side dishes) also tasted really great today. The kimchi was great and so was the fish cake and other various side dishes. I’m not sure if we can attribute my last experience to management or that this location is new, but Sa Ri One Sushi & Korean BBQ was great today in Brandon and I would recommend checking it out.

Jinah was a great server – she even caught my debit card when I almost left it at the restaurant and returned it to me before I left.

Sa Ri One Sushi & Korean BBQ has weekday lunch specials and is open 7 days a week.

Sushi was not available today as their sushi chef was apparently not in – not sure when that is going to be available either.

Restaurant Name: Sa Ri One Sushi & Korean BBQ

Cuisine: Korean, Korean BBQ, Japanese

Neighborhood: Brandon

Address: 1025 W. Brandon Blvd. Brandon, Florida 33511

Phone Number: (813) 548-0024

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sarionesushiandkoreanbbq

Deal Alert: Soul of Korea Summer Set

If you love Korean food, check out the summer set deal at Soul of Korea in the Temple Terrace area at 7612 North 56th Street.

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The deal costs around $38 and will net you bulgogi (marinated beef), galbi (short ribs), fish, kimchi tofu stew, japchae noodles, and a ton of side dishes with rice included. Bought separately you would pay much more and this set can easily feed 2-3 people so make sure to bring a friend.

The side dishes which are known as banchan in Korean are served in plentiful portions and have an authentic taste that is reminiscent of Korean food in South Korea.

Enjoy!

Soul of Korea. 7612 North 56th Street Tampa, Florida 33617. (813) 989-3030

Carlos Eats Korea: The 1st Korean Food Tour for Foreign Foodies

My second food tour in South Korea brought me down to Jeollanam – the Southern tip of South Korea. This food tour was sponsored by Hansik – the Korean Food Foundation. My team was called The Nakji Hunterschosen by our team leader Juanita Hong. We visited a number of towns during my trip and although the trip was lots of work (we were being filmed by KBS and camera work for a documentary is much harder than I imagined…especially when most people speak a foreign language) – the trip was still a great success. I met many people in Jeollanam and learned much about Korean cuisine and culture.

We rode in a charter bus around the region. Our first day was spent at a seafood market in Mokpo.  During our visit to the market we were able to see live fish and then enjoy some fresh seafood. The restaurant used every piece of the fish during our visit and the owner mentioned that in Korean culture they do not believe in wasting food – so the parts of the fish that were not used as sashimi we used in a fish soup and then also as side dishes or banchan in Korean. The banchan were numerous and indeed Jeollanam is known for its lavish and tasty variety of banchan.

The most interesting thing I tried was a bloody clam – it was slimy and actually not as bad as I imagined, although I am unsure if I would try it again without some other kind of sauces mixed in.

The sashimi was made Korean style and tasted good, but didn’t quite melt in my mouth like I hoped it would. The seaport itself had a great view of the water and our hotel, the Muan Beach Hotel, had a beautiful beach-front view at sunset.

After we settled into our hotel, we departed to a town where a man is famous for making octopus or nakji in Korean. He brought out live nakji and together we made the nakji that is traditionally used by Koreans for funeral processions and other ceremonies. Nakji is very expensive (just one can cost at least 25,000 won or more).

The restaurant owner has cooked nakji for more than 17 years and showed us his techniques and how to make nakji soup and nakji on a stick. We also tried nakji raw – which I found to be unappetizing but some of my teammates enjoyed. I was a little disturbed by the nakji and I am sure many foreigners might feel the same way during their first encounter – but for Koreans this just another one of their delicacies and I think learning about that was an important and valuable experience.

After we finished we retired to our hotel and then woke  the next day and headed to meet a fisherman who was going to take us hunting for nakji (hence our name The Nakji Hunters). This was a true workout during a chilly day, but one of the best experiences of our trip. We headed out with our boots and raincoats into a boat that brought us to mud islands where nakji wash up in the early morning.

The fisherman (full of energy) ran around the island with us chasing behind (shovels in hand) and guided us to the small mounds where the nakji are trapped in mud. Nakji eventually escape into the water from the mud and it was essential that we work as fast as possible before they all made it back to sea.

We managed to catch nine nakji. When you step on the mounds they are trapped in, the surrounding water releases and if you dig in the middle you will find a nakji sitting in the middle of the mud. You use your hands to pick it out of the ground. The feeling of a nakji on your hand is an experience itself and I think many travelers to Korea would be interested in this. Some Koreans eat the nakji whole after discovering it, but I decided to hold-off on that, feeling adventurous enough with the blood clams the day before.

Once we left the fisherman behind we headed to a Traditional Korean Market where we visited stands and eventually sold our nakji and seafood off to local townspeople. It was a fun experience and elderly lady managed to haggle down the price of our fish to just 3,000 won! A lesson was learned: never haggle with the elderly – they are experienced.

After our experience we headed to a Korean meat shop and purchased Korean beef and mushrooms for dinner. It had to have been one of the best meals of our trip. One of the Hansik employees posted a photograph on Twitter of my huge smile as I devoured the food. The quality of the meat was superb and during my interview I noted that Westerners would love to have the experience to purchase and make their own meat in this self-cook Korean style. The meat rivaled the taste of some steakhouses I have tried in Tampa and that means a lot since Tampa is the home of Outback Steakhouse and highly esteemed Bern’s Steakhouse – as most of you readers are aware.

After dinner we headed to Boseong and retired in a traditional Korean house there right on the tea farm. We met with the employees on our film and Korea crew and had some late-night snacks while playing some Korean games before heading to bed. We awoke early the next morning to head to the Daehan Boseong Tea Plantation.

The plantation was absolutely beautiful when we awoke in the morning and headed outside. The valley was stunning and although the key blooming season for the fields is in spring and summer – the leaves were still surviving through the autumn. We walked through the field as the camera crew filmed us and discussed some of the health properties of green tea that has made it become famous through the world. You can read some more about my experience on Hansik’s website.

Our last stop was at a Boseong restaurant, Che Heom Jang, that specializes in dishes made from a patented green tea extract. The restaurant owner guided us through the process of making green tea kimchi, a dish that was excellent and unknown even to many Korean people I know in Seoul. The beauty of green tea is it neutralizes the smell that kimchi tends to acquire over time and also tastes great. We put oysters inside the kimchi to enhance the taste even further.

The two women at the restaurant also guided us through other dishes and one looked especially cool in her traditional Korean outfit called a hanbok. We made green tea rice cakes and also green tea rice balls among other dishes and enjoyed several green tea banchan including a nakji soup with green tea thrown inside. Being a huge fan of green tea since my childhood, this experience was special to me and brought me some new understanding about Korean cuisine being innovative and working hard to attempt new heights.

I felt the green tea restaurant was a fitting end to our journey and as we boarded our charter bus back to Seoul – I headed back home with a new perspective about Korean food and culture that I will carry with me as I experience many new foods in the future.

Make sure you check out our Tumblr at http://www.thenakjihunters.tumblr.com and our Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/thenakjihunters for more updates and insights on Korean food and culture and look for the KBS2 documentary to air in the near future on Korean television! 🙂

One Family Korean Restaurant

I have dined at One Family Korean Restaurant (known as Pine Tree Karaoke Cafe until 2010) for about 3 years now. Regarded by many as the best Korean restaurant in Tampa Bay and after searching high and low myself, I have to agree. One Family offers reasonable prices for dishes in comparison to the Korean price inflation found at several other restaurants in town. Their lunch prices stay around $10 as well and even dinner is a bargain. The side dishes are not as plentiful as Rice Restaurant and Lounge, but One Family provide the essentials.  One Family is found in a Korean plaza on Hillsborough Avenue (right past some yellow flashing street lights) and is right next door to a Korean grocery store called S-Mart 1. The restaurant is easy to miss if you don’t look out for buildings with Korean writing.

I came for dinner and split a few entrees with friends. We ordered 해물파전 (Haemul Pajeon) for $10.99, 돌솥비빔밥 (Dolsot Bibimbap) for $11.99, 불 고 기 (Bulgogi) for $14.99, and 갈 비 (Galbi) for $16.99. Normally we would be fine just with one appetizer and a main course, but we wanted to have a variety of things during this dinner. The price was still reasonable when split. Some places charge over $20 for Galbi, believe it or not.

The first thing to arrive was our appetizer: 해물파전 (Haemul Pajeon) or Seafood Pancake. The pancake was great! It is perhaps one of the best seafood pancakes I have had in the Tampa Bay area. The sauce in the middle is a spicy sauce, but actually edible for sensitive diners, unlike the one at Sa Ri One that almost burned my tongue off. The ingredients inside were cooked well. I was excited when the dish arrived and accidentally ate a piece before I could snap a photograph. The Haemul Pajeon went quick, but it was quite filling as a start and it is important to share this dish because you get tired of the seafood taste after a few pieces.

The 돌솥비빔밥 (Dolsot Bibimbap) is one of my favorite dishes at One Family. It is a hot stone bowl filled with steamed rice and topped with ground beef, vegetables, and a sunny side up egg. They also give you spicy sauce on the side. This entree is AMAZING. You can still hear all the ingredients in the hot stone bowl cooking when it comes out. Break your egg and mix the ingredients to begin a delightful tasting adventure. I mix the bibimbap with everything I eat. You will find yourself attempting to finish the bowl, but there is so much food packed in that I have found it to be almost impossible. It is only $1 extra to upgrade from regular bibimbap to the stone bowl so I always upgrade. It just tastes better that way.

The 불 고 기 (Bulgogi) or marinated grilled beef with vegetables came out on a sizzling skillet. I found the beef to be perfectly tender and full of flavor. Superior to Soul of Korea, but still not quite the flavor Sa Ri One on South Dale Mabry has. The price is about the same as Sa Ri One, but I think the portion here was much larger and better for sharing with friends or family members (The one at Sa Ri One was just for one). I enjoyed the beef and felt it was worth the price.

Ah…The 갈 비 (Galbi)! Galbi is one of my favorite Korean dishes and One Family makes delicious pieces of Korean short ribs. Each piece leaves a savory aftertaste and you will be licking the bone. The pieces were huge and the price is reasonable when compared to the crazy $20+ prices at other restaurants, such as Matoi Sushi. I have love for the Galbi at Pacific Grill in Valrico, but for Tampa residents the Galbi at One Family is the best bang for your buck.

The waitress was attentive, but nothing to brag about. She came and brought our food and went on her way. Stopped by for some refills throughout our meal. Most of the waitresses are young Korean girls, probably daughters or family friends of the owners. Most patrons are Korean here as well. The restaurant is nicely decorated, quiant, and feels like it took a slice out of Korea. Overall, One Family Korea is a great and affordable Korean restaurant and my personal favorite in Tampa Bay.

After our meal we decided to sing some karaoke upstairs. It was $25 an hour. Split between friends it isn’t so bad and the price is on-par with Korean karaoke spot Tampa Karaoke, though the English song-list was a bit lacking to Tampa Karaoke’s frequently updated list. The funniest song to karaoke was “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion :).

One Family Korean Restaurant and Karaoke on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: One Family Korean Restaurant

Cuisine: Korean

Neighborhood: Town N Country

Address: 7030 W Hillsborough Avenue Tampa, FL 33634

Phone Number: (813) 901-0153

Website: http://www.onefamilykoreanrestaurant.com/