February 23, 2016
…this raw, marinated crab at Soban, a small, homely Korean restaurant on the outskirts of Koreatown.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t linked to their website, it’s because when you go to the Soban website you find yourself scanning kitchen equipment. Which tells you a lot about this restaurant; it has a decidedly old-fashioned feel. This is not one of your loud, glitzy restaurants, nor one of your hip, edgy ones. It’s a small place with a single waitress and a t.v. tuned to the latest golf tournament. Eating here feels like stopping in at your elderly aunt’s place for a home-cooked meal and a cup of tea. (Alcohol is not only not served, it’s decidedly frowned upon.) People tend to keep their conversations to a polite hush.
No aunt I’ve ever known, however, serves anything like that marinated crab. It’s sweet and salty, rich and funky with silken meat. You try to dig the gorgeous orange roe out with your metal chopsticks, but end up attacking it with your fingers; it is one of the best things you’ll ever taste. If you like uni….. Afterward the perfume lingers on your fingers for hours, teasing you into wanting to go back and have another one. (A decidedly expensive proposition; the crab is not large and costs $35.)
But first you’ll get a table full of panchan, the little salad-like side dishes that are the hallmark of Korean restaurants. Here you get more than the usual handful; we had at least 15. I liked this one a lot.
The bean sprouts were lovely. So was the spinach. But my favorite was the braised celery – a sort of lovely teal green – sprinkled with ground nuts.
The famous dish here, other than the crab, is galbi jjim, the classic Korean short rib stew. This one is rich, garlicky and sweet, with just a hint of chile heat. The waitress will cut the meat up with scissors and then leave it to fall from the bone in a particularly wonderful way.
There are braised fish dishes – a rich one with black cod, tofu and turnips that seems very much like a home-cooked meal:
And a simpler, equally unassuming version featuring long, tender strands of squid:
And then, if you’re me, you’ll opt to order another one of those wonderful crabs. After all, who knows how long it will be until you get back again?
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