Yesterday I was invited to the Korean Culinary Camp put on by the Korean Consulate General. In actuality, it turned out to be more of a Korean product push in the guise of a luncheon, but it gave me the opportunity to sit next to Lee Jeong Gwan, the Korean Consul General and his lovely wife who live in Sea Cliff. Over our lunch, I grilled him about the state of Korean food in SF. He confirmed what I already knew: to get good Korean food here, you have to travel.
Are there any good Korean restaurants in San Francisco?
Not really. Seoul Garden [in Japantown] is not so bad, but it's too expensive.
Where do you go then?
I was just at Jang Su Jang in Santa Clara. They provide many different kinds of menus. They're really good at mandoo, which are dumplings. They're really hard to make. I also like Bowl'd in Albany which is owned by the daughter of the woman who owns Ohgane in Oakland. She's the best in that area. I used to live in LA and the Korean food there is excellent. In some ways better than Korea because they have access to better, cheaper ingredients.
How do you want people to regard Korea?
China is so big that the Chinese people want to be one. Japan is an island country so the people are very delicate. Korean people are dynamic because we are a peninsula. We are very sensitive to being recognized as different than Japan and China. It's an issue of self-respect.
Do you think this is reflected in Korean food?
Korean food has such strong flavors unlike Japanese food. Also, we love drinking—to the point of the extreme. Koreans love what we call poktan ju, or bombs, which are a beer and a shot of soju dropped into it. Actually, that's always not such a good thing. Also, Koreans are the only ones who use steel chopsticks. Only clever, smart people can handle that!
Have you tried other restaurants in San Francisco?
Yes, but we have a Korean cook at home. He's very good at making kimchee soup and tteok galbi. Even though my job is to travel around the world, I like to eat Korean food every day.