Korean tofu houses might be a won a dozen in Los Angeles, but not here in Orlando. Oh, sure, you can find the tofu house's specialty – a fiery, bubbling soup of silken tofu known as soondubu jjigae – at many area Korean restaurants, but BBB Tofu House in the 1st Oriental Supermarket Plaza makes it their raison d'etre. The soup, you may be surprised to learn, didn't originate in the Land of the Morning Calm but is actually an L.A. invention, and a true signature dish of the city (listen up, all you honey-pushers at Visit Orlando).
BBB Tofu House owner Tony Teng, who happens to be Chinese but was born and raised in South Korea, ran several restaurants in L.A., San Diego and other parts of California before settling in this not-so-beautiful strip of the City Beautiful. Here he fashions, arguably, the finest soondubu in the city, and a sexier broth you never will see: reddened, fiery, rippling with the fumes of gochugalu (chili powder) and gochujang (chili paste). The house version gurgles with shrimp, clams, squid and, of course, those pillowy cubes of extra-soft organic tofu. A raw egg is plopped into the crimson tide because, well, a raw egg makes every soondubu better.
A Korean gal pal of mine, who just moved here from L.A., was duly impressed by BBB's rendition as were, seemingly, all the other Korean patrons inside the natty eatery. Order a combo meal of succulent galbi ($21.99), and you'll be served a glazed earthenware ddukbaegi of the soup with your barbecued beef ribs. You'll even get assorted banchan as well – kimchi, japchae, potato slivers, pickled spicy radish, mac and cheese (?), soybean sprouts, and black beans in sweet sauce.
Should you want just a bowl of soondubu, like the wondrous "original beef" ($10.99), naturally you can get one, and if you're craving more traditional Korean fare – hot stone bibimbap ($15.99), for example – well, you can get that too. Just wait a few minutes for the rice to crisp up, dump in a spoonful (or a few) of gochujang, then go to town. There's a fried egg on the top of the heap of rice, beef and veggies because, well, a fried egg makes every bibimbap better.
Pass not on the Korean seafood pancake ($15.99), a beautiful ring of fried batter with krab, shrimp, squid and sprouts, though feel free to pass on the barbecued grilled chicken ($18.99). It's not that it's bad – on the contrary – but it's one of the less interesting dishes to be had here.
After a while, our table was a sight to behold – a colorful spread of dishes as dizzying, arresting and spectacular as a Moonie mass wedding. A bowl of icy fruit- and syrup-topped patbingsu would've resulted in a visual singularity but, alas, desserts aren't offered (though we were informed the menu, much like our post-meal frames, would soon undergo an expansion).
No matter; we were quite content sipping the house boricha ($3.50), a cold beverage blending barley, green tea, oolong tea, roasted corn and sweetener while trying hard not to be transfixed by the K-Pop vids playing above the banchan station. Like there wasn't enough here to hold our gaze.
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