At Tani Korean Japanese Restaurant + Pub, don’t reach for the beer so fast. Order the samgyetang first, and enjoy what’s probably the healthiest soup in the world. Did you order it? Good. Now you can order the beer.
Samgyetang is a traditional Korean ginseng chicken soup that’s always been one of the tougher Korean dishes to make. Part of the reason is because it takes forever, but the bigger reason is that it’s supposed to be deep with flavor, yet light and gentle on the tongue—a difficult medium to master for any dish. Since a lot of restaurants don’t have the time to make it right, the soup hasn’t yet reached the popularity levels of AYCE BBQ or even soondobu, so you’re often stuck with something that tastes like bland, dry chicken in boiled water rather than soup.
“Other restaurants that serve samgyetang usually freeze it and then serve, since it doesn’t go out as often,” says Tani owner-chef Akira Lee, who’s been cooking since he was 18. “But for us, we make it fresh in the morning, in the same way a mother in Korea would make it.”
The restaurant-pub opened its Tustin doors back in December 2015, switching over from its previous life as the popular AYCE Monster Sushi after Lee had a change of heart.
“I got tired of it after two-to-three years…sushi wasn’t fun, and finding sushi chefs was difficult,” Lee said through a Korean-English interpreter. “And so I thought, ‘Why don’t I just do food that I want to do?’ And that’s why I decided to start this fusion style.”
Through Tani, he wants to offer a restaurant with “more color” and expose customers to edgier entrees, or less familiar ones. He’s still working on unveiling his new menu in two weeks, one that will feature a jazzy set of French- and New York-inspired Asian fusion dishes like sashimi cocktail cups, elegant sushi boxes, masterful Korean delicacies, and other surprises up Lee’s sleeve.
But Lee is banking on his star to be samgyetang. He doesn’t just feature one version of the soup, but three—far more than any local Korean restaurant. It’s in his family genes: his mother’s recipe back in Korea helped the family establish a famous samgyetang house in Seoul.
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The house samgyetang is your standard ginseng chicken soup. Each samgyetang pot comes with a full young chicken stuffed with ginseng, garlic, jujube, and a sweet type of rice called chapssal. When it’s brought out, the first thing you want to do is break into the tender bird with your spoon and let all the blended flavor of the stuffing marinate into the surrounding broth. Piece by piece, sip by sip, savor the meat, stuffing, broth, and toss your bones into the empty tin at the table. Repeat. For those with a needier tongue, it’s common to dip the pieces of chicken into a salt and pepper mix prepared on the side.
The second version is an antler ginseng chicken soup—sounds freaky, but it’s just a bit stronger with a woodsier taste. The third is a sweeter, Oriental-medicinal one that tastes like a Chinese medicine cabinet but in the most amazing way. Each type of samgyetang is also packed with nutrients and disease-fighting herbs that are super healthy for the skin, internal organs, and blood circulation. That’s why Lee calls his samgyetang menu, “Jang Su Samgyetang”—“Live Long Samgyetang.”
Tani still has a portion of the Monster Sushi menu, no longer AYCE but 50 percent off, and also features a popular beer and fried chicken combo, and other common Korean and Japanese dishes. But go with the samgyetang—probably the healthiest soup ever.
Tani, 13832 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 573-2855.