There, I’ve said it.
Yes, it can be bland, boring and texturally uninteresting on its own. It needs a lot of help to be palatable. Unfortunately, most cooks haven’t a clue.
However, I am here to testify that, when handled properly, tofu can be terrific.
Finding Tofu Kitchen in Johns Creek has cemented that belief.
Open just five months in the same strip center as the excellent Le Mekong, this wonderful little Korean eatery has 14 different soups made with organic soft tofu.
I have had two — a seafood tofu soup with squid, octopus and shrimp, and tofu soup with beef, shrimp and clams — and intend to work my way through the entire list.
The soups pack a flavor wallop that brings out the best in medallions of tofu floating in the savory broth with other proteins.
It should be noted that tofu is also a protein, one of the most easily digestible, as well as a good source of iron and other minerals.
It also is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which research has proven to have a broad array of health benefits.
Even though I have long known those good-for-you aspects of coagulated soybean curd, it rarely showed up on my must-have list.
Until I’d experienced these delectable soups, my only favorable exposure to tofu since my crunchy granola post-college days had been in Chinese cuisine. Somehow I had overlooked what Korean cooks have to offer.
Turns out, I’m not alone. Many Westerners also have an extremely vague notion of what Korean cuisine is all about.
“Chinese food, Japanese food, Indian food, all are so popular. But a lot of people don’t know Korean food,” said Seungmin “Lexie” Lee, Tofu Kitchen’s young owner.
“But once they’ve tried it, they get excited. They love it.”
In metro Atlanta, Buford Highway and Gwinnett County are strongholds for genuine Korean cooking.
To my knowledge, Tofu Kitchen is the only Korean restaurant in north Fulton.
Lee learned the restaurant business and recipes from her mother, who had a Korean barbecue eatery on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard for 15 years and now runs a catering operation.
Lee’s restaurant doesn’t do the barbecue. Instead, it focuses on those great tofu soups and bibimbap, a signature Korean dish of rice, protein and fresh vegetables.
Bibimbap comes to the table in a hot stone pot, meant to be mixed all together by the diner. Add a little Sriracha for spice and it’s a hearty, satisfying meal.
For vegetarians or those who would just like to cut back on the cholesterol, tofu can be subbed for any meat or seafood in any dish.
And spice levels can be adjusted on request from mild to super spicy.
Listed as an appetizer, a delicious seafood pancake is enough for a full meal for one or substantial starter for two.
It’s a welcome and different treatment for seafood that I could eat every day.
Lunchbox specials during the week have a meat like chicken teriyaki and fried pork cutlet, rice, tempura fried carrots, zucchini, onion and a shrimp and two sides, a small salad with a light sesame dressing and a dollop of macaroni salad.
Among Tofu Kitchen’s specialties is bulgoki, the marinated, grilled beef that is one of the most familiar Korean dishes to most Westerners.
We also enjoyed the spicy marinated pork with rice as well as bossam, slices of boiled pork meant to be piled on a lettuce leaf with a sliver of daikon, napa cabbage and spicy Korean radish marinated with a touch of salted shrimp and red pepper.
It’s a fun finger food that has a pleasing interplay of textures and tastes.
One seasonal dish that just showed up on the menu is called sam-gyetang. It’s a whole young chicken stuffed with sweet rice, garlic, a Korean date and ginseng and boiled in a broth.
Usually served only during warmer months because it contains nutrients that can be lost by perspiring, it is both tasty and comforting.
I’d heard that Korean meals were always accompanies by a bevy of side dishes, and the trays with our orders came out bearing an additional 10 small bowls of various veggies, starches and fish.
Collectively called banchan, these sides are meant to be munched in between bites of the main course.
Lee’s mother prepares kimchi fresh for Tofu Kitchen banchan every morning.
Her version of the traditional pickled cabbage is less intense than others because it hasn’t fermented, but it does have some of the usual zip from crushed red pepper.
10900 Medlock Bridge Road, Johns Creek