The Only Good Korean Food: OHGANE RESTAURANT
On most days, I am really grateful for how much good food abounds in San Francisco. With perhaps the exception of New York City — and arguably Las Vegas (at least these days) — San Francisco has some of the most varied and greatest restaurant selections available in the United States. Luckily, this city also eats out more often than the residents of any other city in this country. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, San Francisco spends an average that tops $4000 per household (and these figures are based on 2008/2009), and that figure factors in everyone in the city limits. That is over $700 more per household than the average in New York City, even.
In my world, I think people spend somewhere closer to $6000+ per year on just food. That figure is current, with or without a recession!
Furthermore, to give you more data that you may or may not be interested in, SF Weekly reports, “A study conducted by American Express and released by the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau earlier this year showed that domestic travelers coming to San Francisco spent disproportionately more at restaurants. Restaurants account for 54 percent of total spending. When card members visit other cities, the average is 13 percent.”
This isn’t surprising. Like I said, San Francisco is the mecca of restaurants — which is what makes writing for this blog so much fun!
But we have a serious deficiency here in this city which enables me to make an absolute declaration: there is no good Korean food worth eating in San Francisco.
This is so hard for me to understand, as Korean food is really not that difficult to cook or prepare. I can see that many restaurants are hesitant to open up a place in San Francisco due to exorbitant lease costs, but the handful of restaurants we do have should really bring up some LA cooks to prepare the meals; I would be the first one to drive business there!
Just 400 miles south from the city, we have Korean food in Los Angeles’ Koreatown that, more often than not, beats out Seoul, Korea as far as taste, and is second to none as far as available choices. In San Francisco, I can’t think of a single Korean restaurant that does truly offers a good glimpse into excellent Korean cooking. I have a place I go to for just BBQ; I have a place I go to for just late night dining (another truly slim dining category); and for all else, I cook at home as I refuse to pay money for what I cook better than anything we have available here! We have more choices in Santa Clara, but that’s an hour drive.
Luckily, we have one in Oakland, CA — just across the Bay Bridge, and when you get lucky and miss traffic, it’s merely a 15-20 minute drive.
Ohgane Korean BBQ Restaurant offers some excellent Korean food all around. While I am far from having tried all of their food, I’ve tried enough to know that whoever is cooking in their kitchen knows how to cook restaurant-quality Korean food. While I only ate their barbecue Korean meat on this last visit — I have tried their soups and stews and I am certain that the cook here knows how to cook, and cook well. Their fish stews (like ah-goo-jjeem — or 아구찜) are quite good, even if it still falls a tad short of Los Angeles’ Korean food. Their soybean casserole and kimchee jjigae are also tasty — and these are the basic staples of Korean cooking!
The true test of a Korean kitchen is the “banchan”, or side dishes. These are customarily free at Korean restaurants, and rarely do you find one where they offer you this large of a selection. But what is the point of a large selection if it all tastes bad, right? Well, at Ohgane, the majority of the banchan is delicious. Some, like the kimchee (김치) and the cucumber mix dish (오이 무침), were just okay. Others, like the minari (미나리 skanf), fish cakes (오댕), and kong-jang (콩장) were quite exemplary! The soybean paste offered for dipping the garlic and peppers into was delicious!
Now let me tell you about a “special” that Ohgane does.
From Monday to Wednesday – for both lunch and dinner – Ohgane offers an “All You Can Eat” (AYCE) option. I believe the lunch option is $11.95; the dinner option is $19.95 for all the marinaded and un-marinaded beef you can eat, as well as pork belly to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content. Bearing in mind that due to having charcoal grills, the pork belly will be grilled in the kitchen and brought out to you on a hot plate. All the beef is served to you raw for you to cook at your table.
With this option, however, is the presentation of the white sheets of rice paper, pictured above: Dduk Bossam. If you don’t know what this is — you haven’t read my post on it, available HERE. The last time I was at Ohgane, they did not offer this option — and this time, I saw that they had included this into their AYCE option! Imagine how excited I was, as this is one of my favorite things!
Definitely read up on how to eat Dduk Bossam prior to going to try this out!
While I have some friends who go crazy for the side dishes, I’ve always been one to wait for the main dish: SHOW ME THE MEAT!
While Ohgane has the full selection of Korean barbecue meats available, only three choices are available for the AYCE, naturally. The notable thing, though, is that the beef offered on the AYCE option, while not “galbi”, is actually quite delicious! Joo-moo-luk (주물럭) is usually a lesser cut of meat compared to the typical short ribs offered as “galbi” — and the type that is presented at Ohgane is excellent — just fatty enough, fresh, and extremely tasty. I like this meat with or without marinade, but I’d bet the marinaded variety is more popular with most people as the taste is almost identical to “galbi”.
The meat is accompanied by a plain side salad, which has a minimal dressing and some red pepper flakes for decor more than taste. This was nothing spectacular, which was a small letdown, as places that do this “dduk bossam” type of barbecue in LA offer excellent vegetable mixes to accompany the meat and rice wrappers. (This is also why I end up making it myself and taking it with me to the few dduk bossam restaurants we have right now!)
With all the banchan, dduk bossam, and meat laid out – there is nothing left to do but grill. Some people will swear by the charcoal grill, claiming it makes the biggest difference in taste, but I beg to differ. When the meat is good, it tastes just as amazing on a gas grill, but for what it’s worth, Ohgane uses charcoal grills.
In turn, the grill itself tends to burn more, and needs changing more often. If you have never been to this type of a restaurant, you should flag down a server and request a grill change whenever you notice too much of a crisp forming on the grill. Sometimes, if they’re not busy — they will just come and do it for you when the time is right.
When grilling Korean BBQ meat, much like I recommend with steak, the idea is to flip only once. Lay enough meat out on the grill and let it completely cook through on one side. Lift one corner of one slice to check it’s color on the side that’s facing the flame and when it’s finally nice and browned, flip it over and do the same for the raw side. Once that side is finished, do not flip it over again but rather, hand it over to the person who will eating it. This is the best way to retain all the juices and flavors in the meat.
While I didn’t have pork belly on this visit, my past visits have proven that the pork belly here is just basic, at best. They were more thinly sliced than I liked — and frankly, if it’s grilled in the kitchen, it takes away half the joy of seeing pork belly in a Korean restaurant. My recommendation would be to stick with the beef dishes unless you’re a fanatic about all things pork belly.
To touch on the service here, I have always found the hosts, owners, and servers to all be excellent at this location. While I usually don’t go to Korean restaurants expecting phenomenal service, this location truly has well-trained servers who are pleasant, friendly, and there’s no request I make that is not met with a friendly smile (and it’s not because of this blog as they had no idea about it). Some of the best male servers, I’ve encountered at this restaurant. The lady owner is also very accommodating and tends to be very hands-on with the operation of her place, though she was noticeably replaced by a younger lady on this last visit, who was also quite pleasant.
And finally — as all Korean meals should, in my opinion — the shikhye (식혜) is served and the meal comes to an end. Shikye is one of my favorite dessert “drinks”; it’s a rice and barley malt concoction, served in a bowl but you pick up the bowl and drink it. It’s served ice-cold and usually dons some pine nuts — and nothing serves as a better digestion aid or cool-down drink in the middle of a hot and humid summer. In this regard, it’s the perfect ending to a smoke-filled, fat-flying barbecue feast!
For your information, short of going to anaphylactic shock with a sip or two of alcohol, ordering soju with your barbecue is mandatory! Nothing pairs with Korean barbecue like a shot or two of cold soju — and at only $11 per bottle, one bottle is generally good for two people to share. That brown thing you see at the corner of the table is a buzzer used to request service — making it incredibly easy for you to order more of anything. (Incidentally, on the day I was there, it didn’t seem to work!)
Ohgane now has two locations – the original is in Oakland, and the new location is in Dublin. Oakland’s restaurant is located at 3915 Broadway and has a parking lot attached to the location, though it gets full quickly; business hours are from 11 AM – 11 PM, seven days a week. Dublin’s location is at 7877 Amador Valley Blvd — and this location has a huge parking lot where it’s never a problem finding parking. The Dublin location is also opened seven days a week, but from 11 AM to 10 PM.
Having been to both, I daresay the quality and taste are equal, but at the time of this writing, I’m not sure if the Dublin location offers the same AYCE option. Dublin’s location is large, but Oakland’s is nearly double the size making it suitable for big parties with prior reservations. You should know that on weekend evenings, both places are slammed with business so expect a good wait, as Korean BBQ meals are not quick by any means. You can find more details on the Ohgane website.
Addictive Factor: 8/10
Overall Rating: 8.35/10