Korean classics are well-executed and offered at affordable prices at this strong-performing branch of small national chain
Few restaurants have a name as fun to say as So Gong Dong Tofu & Korean BBQ. The sleek, efficient and affordable eatery on Hayden Road possessing this exceptional moniker is fun to visit, too.
Part of a small national chain whose name salutes the Sogong neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea, the company's shorthand for itself — SGD DUBU — provides a clue to its menu if you speak even a smidgen of Korean.
“Dubu” is Korean for tofu, and SGD's appropriation of the word is a reference to the restaurant's specialty: the gurgling-hot, spicy, healthful tofu stew called soondubu-jjigae.
If you're new to all this, SGD's small, succinct menu makes it a great place to get your feet wet with a cuisine whose popularity seems to be growing daily. If you're already familiar with Korean food and its attendant party-style custom of sharing boldly flavored dishes — some with entertaining kinetic qualities — consistently good SGD is a great place for you, too.
Shortly after being seated in the spare but roomy, handsome and modern space, you'll be given your first freebie: soothing hot tea, made with roasted barley and corn, that tastes nutty and a bit sweet.
Prefer something stronger? Several Korean beers are offered ($4; $7 for large bottles), along with vodka-like soju ($13) and Korean fruit and grain wines ($14).
But I recommend trying the less common, slightly sweet and tangy fermented rice beverage with an ABV in the ale range called Makgeolli (rhymes with “broccoli”; “$10 for 750 milliliters). Properly presented with chilled metal drinking bowls (tradition dictates you only pour for others), it's milky white, gently fizzy and brings to mind a sake-beer hybrid, but tastes better than that sounds.
And it goes great with Korean food. That will start arriving, quickly after ordering an entree, in a free and unlimited stream of tapas-like banchan dishes. SGD's banchan is good and spicier than most in Columbus. Expect crisp, tart-sweet pickles spiked with chili paste; fiery and funky, ginger-scented napa-cabbage kimchi; crunchy daikon radish in a sweet soy sauce with jalapenos; a mayo-based corn salad with red peppers; chili-livened fish cakes; and a cooling, flavorful bean-sprout salad.
Soondubu-jjigae ($13) heads the first of four small sections on the appealingly simple menu. Ordering a bowl requires three choices, and two are no-brainers for me: chili level — I wouldn't go higher or lower than “regular,” which is nice and spicy; and starch preference — my clear winner over rice or standard ramen noodles is the kalguksu, or pleasantly textured hand-cut wide noodles.
The third choice dictates what else you want in your built-to-share bowl of copious soft tofu and vibrant house chili broth, which will arrive actively boiling. Your 12 options, which are wide-ranging, are used to flavor the stew, not dominate it.
Requesting kimchi results in long, incendiary cabbage leaves, plus a good supply of bulgogi-like beef. Requesting seafood brings a handful of clams, plus two head-on shrimp. Both bowls hit the spot and are nearly impossible for one hungry, hearty eater to finish.
Ditto for the sweet and spicy Pork Bulgogi ($16), my delicious foray into SGD's kitchen-cooked (not DIY) Korean barbecue. A Korean answer to fajitas, this is an enormous pile of tender, thin meat and onions coated in chili paste and served sizzling on a metal plate.
The rice-based Stone-Pot Bibimbap ($15), sided with egg-drop soup, arrives sizzling in a stone bowl. Eight topping options (spicy chicken works well) join a huge pile of sliced shiitakes, cucumbers, carrots, onions and more. Hint: Let the rice form a crust before digging in.
I didn't need the final freebie — a palate-cooling, fruit-flavored yogurt drink — to guarantee I'd return to SGD, but it didn't hurt.