BCD Tofu

Tofu is like a sponge, and at BCD Tofu in Garden Grove, that means tofu like a sponge afire. The waitress brings the soon tofu (tofu soup) still boiling in a stone pot. Even when it's merely simmering, it occasionally fires droplets onto the table and your shirt. And minutes later, when you pour the soon tofu into a rice-packed steel bowl to cool it, the tofu still scalds your tongue. And that's just the physical temperature: unless you request otherwise, BCD's soon tofu will burn with enough spice to dissolve a Hummer.

But bliss sets in once the soon tofu rests inside your mouth. It's chunky and soft and redolent of chile (you can calibrate the spice, of course—pussy) but also the essences of whatever main ingredient you choose. BCD Tofu offers 12 flavors, from a classic beef tofu (with the beef cut into thin, manageable strips) to a thoroughly Americanized ham-and-sausage type that is a hot-plate breakfast special waiting for Norms. More complex is the dumpling tofu: though the dumplings are tiny, their strongly herbed ground-beef interiors suggest hours of intricate labor. There is even one soon tofu unappetizingly deemed “gut soon tofu”—cow intestines boiled to pale, rubbery perfection.

Accompanying your soon tofu cauldron will be panchan, the panoply of side dishes that accompany all Korean meals to provide extra textures, temperatures and sensations depending on the chef's picks of the day. Sometimes the panchan is plates of chilled pickles or salsa-slathered cabbage; I like the anchovies sluiced with teriyaki sauce and chile, a snappy combo of sweetness, fieriness and the fishy's natural salty jolt. The only constant panchans are the side of pungent, hellacious kimchi (pickled vegetables) and a fried mackerel. Many Korean restaurants serve a full, cooked mackerel before dinner, but only at BCD Tofu have I had it breaded: light, soft meat encased in a sweet, crispy breading; the KFC of the sea.

There are other things to munch on at BCD Tofu—a limited barbecue selection, bibimbap (a spicy noodle salad) and succulent chunks of raw crab spiced to a level worthy of any Mexican. But stick to the soon tofu. There's a reason BCD runs 12 outposts from Little Seoul to Korea to Koreatown to bloody Torrance—and it ain't the seasoned clam, as grand as that is.



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