The Vegetarian Option: Koreatown's Cho Dang Gol Specializes in Fresh Homemade Tofu
Cho Dang Gol is a perennially popular K-Town restaurant that's lauded for its homemade tofu: soft, milky white curd made daily and served up in a variety of dishes. As you might expect of a restaurant that devotes much of its menu to bean curd, Cho Dang Gol offers an array of vegetarian choices.
The meal starts off with a tiny complimentary bowl of that tofu, the delicate white curd nestled in a bath of rich, warm soymilk. This dish is comforting, reminiscent of soft scrambled eggs or a glass of warm milk your mom might give you before bedtime as a kid. The pure, clean flavor of the tofu gets just enough of a flavor boost from a spoonful of soy sauce accented with chives and sesame seeds.
One of the highlights of eating Korean food is the spread of banchan, or small appetizers, that arrive before the meal to whet the appetite. Standouts at Cho Dang Gol include a spicy, funky cabbage and daikon kimchi (above, top left) and simple steamed spinach with soy sauce and sesame seeds (above, bottom left).
That wonderful homemade tofu is the centerpiece of dulkke cham dubu ($12.95), a simply-flavored but incredibly satisfying stew featuring two textures of the tofu—one softer, the other a little firmer—in a sauce made of ground perilla, or shiso, seeds, called "wild sesame" in Korean cuisine. The seeds have a mild, sweet taste that's faintly reminiscent of licorice, and the stew is studded here and there with chunks of potatoes and mushrooms.
The real standout of the meal was the mushroom stone bowl ($18.95, pictured at top), a combination of rice, several types of flavorful seared mushrooms, strands of zucchini, carrot and daikon, and soft tofu that arrives in a piping-hot stone bowl. As with bibimbop, that well-known Korean dish of rice, ground beef and a soft egg, the bottom crust of the rice gets super-crisp,y and is a delight to pick at throughout the course of the meal.
Cho Dang Gol offers a selection of jeon, or stuffed savory pancakes. They were the one dud in an otherwise stellar meal: slightly greasy and totally lacking in salt, served without any sauce that could add flavor. I could see little flecks of squash in the gam ja jeon ($16.95) pancake, but couldn't taste it; really, this dish was like a giant, gluey latke.
Cho Dang Gol's flavors are exemplified by its extraordinary homemade tofu: clean and understated, but wonderfully satisfying. It's a great vegetarian option for lower midtown diners.
About the author: Lauren Rothman is a former Serious Eats intern, a freelance catering chef, and an obsessive chronicler of all things culinary. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and follow her on Twitter @Lochina186.