Cheap Eats - Seoul Food

Tofu Village

There's a dreary strip mall on the corner of Sandy Plains Road in Marietta where the atmosphere seems purposefully absent of aesthetic appeal. A store simply dubbed "Printing," as well as an all-in-one "Barber Shop/Recording Studio/Music Store" are shoved into this nondescript commercial closet.

Tofu Village is similar to neighboring businesses on the exterior. The month-old Korean restaurant's unassuming sign is barely legible and the window posters advertise "health BBQ," a contradiction of terms for most Southerners. Nor is the name terribly titillating — I wouldn't travel to visit any village that's predominant promise is tofu.

Don't judge a nook by its cover: Despite its ambiguous frontage, the interior of the "Village" will surprise all senses. Dark wooden tables separated by softly carved dividers lend privacy and intimacy to customers. According to an owner, the finessed furniture and accessories were painstakingly shipped from Korea. It's an import that works to achieve a clean elegance and coziness crowned with Korean comfort food.

Soul food from Seoul: During the bustling weekday lunch hour, 10 entrees are served for $6.99 each. This includes "ban chan," endless servings of sides. There's kimchee, that infamous cabbage cured with randy red peppers and buried until it's perilously pickled, as well as a seaweed salad in a tart vinegar sauce and crunchy black beans. These side dishes change with the seasons but always promise a plentiful palate.

Lunch entrees include bul go ki, thinly sliced beef marinated in a sweet and gently spiced sauce, which is served with glutinous glass noodles and crunchy veggies. Surprisingly satisfying was the lunch tofu burger, which resembled and tasted like a cloud of ricotta cheese speckled with fresh carrots and green onions.

The lunch tofu cheesesteak, a sub with thinly sliced beef, grilled tofu, cheese and fried onion, proves that East and West shouldn't always meet in the middle. It's a fusion as wrong as sashimi served on Wonder Bread.

At dinner, enormous appetizers are plentiful enough to share. The Korean-style pancake with seafood and scallion ($12.99) is served on a sizzling iron platter. This fluffy omelet is stuffed with squid and oysters and speckled with green onions and herbs.

Stone-Pot Soother: Dinners are ceremoniously served with stone-pot rice. This rendition turns the modest grain into a medicinal, mineral-rich staple. Once the servers scoop the rice from pot to plate, they fill the stone bowl with a tea mixture to dilute the nutrient tidbits into an exotic elixir. It's served with dishes such as oxtail soup or pork with kimchee, and comes with various types of homemade tofu that's made fresh daily.

Last, but hardly least, is the authentic Korean BBQ. Seven special tables equipped with built-in grills and overhead hoods are reserved for parties of two or more who wish to cook their own "Q". Try the la kal bi — thin, short ribs marinated in special sauce ($14.99 per person.) There's a similarly priced variety of mushrooms, or bau sut kew ee, perfect for vegetarians who still have the primal need to grill good grub.

At Tofu Village, I finally learned the beauty of bean curd coddled correctly. The owner and employees speak enough English to patiently describe more intricate dishes but will also cater to the cautious customer. After all, its just BBQ with veggies, served with soul at a strip mall in Marietta.

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