Korean Adventure 

Remember that scene from Indiana Jones? Here's the tame version.

Our waiter hesitated when we asked about the combination meat plate. "Well, you may not want that. It's old-style Korean food." Then he explained. We nodded enthusiastically. "In that case," he said, "get the one with the pigs' feet."

Jang Tu, a little Korean place at Telegraph Avenue and 38th Street, has a number of old-style Korean dishes on its menu. You can get savory, Westerner-friendly grilled meats and noodle soups. But Jang Tu's specials menu lists a few things you won't find at Hahn's Hibachi. Like Combination Meat Plate Number Two.

The platter of old-school Korean cold cuts came with a small dish of coarse salt for seasoning. In the center were thin slices of roasted pork heart and puffy, cream-colored squares of chewy pork stomach. We were instructed to dip thin, crunchy slices of the pigs' feet into a paste of red chiles and minuscule dried shrimp. The meat's ham-like flavor paired nicely with the salty, fermented condiment. But the platter showcased a heap of warm slices of soondae, house-made blood sausage. Jang Tu's soondae, which were mostly rice noodles tinted mauve with cooked-down pork blood, were much blander than the sweet, deep-purple boudins noirs I ate in French-speaking Europe and the firmer, richer black puddings upon which my Commonwealth-born tablemates were raised.

Korean restaurants are spreading up and down Telegraph, anchored on one end by the Koryo shopping plaza and on the other by the markets down around the 20s. They're also diversifying: Happy Family specializes in Korean-Chinese noodles, and Pyung Chang Tofu House features soon, or soft tofu stews. According to Kwan Kim, one of the younger members of the family that owns Jang Tu, their restaurant specializes in the kind of traditional foods you'd find at open-air markets all across Korea. The Kim family, which originally hails from Seoul, started the first Jang Tu in Sunnyvale five years ago. Jang Tu Oakland opened a year ago.

The sunny, clean room was almost empty the first time I visited Jang Tu. The server, a lanky twentysomething sporting a black Kangol cap, was more focused on his newspapers than on us. On my second visit, my companions started pestering him with questions: What is this? Which of these do you recommend? He perked up. And our willingness to try the blood sausage and shot glasses of a distilled spirit called soju, a potent rice-based liquor that tastes more like vodka than sake, brought out his enthusiasm and ours for the food.

Although Kim's description makes Jang Tu's fare sound like street food, it's served sit-down style with the normal bevy of side dishes, or panchan. We only received six or seven panchan with our meals -- the fancier the place, the more crowded the table -- but our waiter refilled each tiny plate as we cleared it. I found the cabbage kimchi too sour and sharp, but loved the balance of sour, sweet, and spicy in the fermented daikon pickles. The mung-bean sprouts tossed in sesame oil and the fresh daikon strips in a salty ice-water pickle were homey and familiar. And I loved a sesame-flavored seaweed and cucumber salad that I'd never tried before, as well as a muted daikon-and-celery pickle.

The division between appetizers and entrées isn't clear on the menu. Given the size of the portions, especially when you count in all the panchan, you may not want to order any starters. However, don't pass up a side of kim bop, a type of Korean sushi, which is offered for $2 with some of the noodle and meat entrées. Resembling futomaki, the nori-wrapped rolls we tried were fat, tightly packed, and warm. Sesame seeds on the outside added a complementary nutty note to the pickled vegetables, egg, and fake crab inside. A full order would make a light lunch.

Both of the barbecued meats we ordered were cooked in the kitchen and served on cast-iron sizzle platters. The spicy chicken was thickly coated with a kicky, sweet chile and bean-paste marinade. It was so flavorful that my tablemate scraped the remnants off the plate once the meat had disappeared and ate the red sludge over rice. The chicken, though, was a little overcooked. We had the same experience with the tough but tasty kalbi, thinly cross-sliced short ribs in a soy-based marinade.

Koreans are big on pancakes as both snacks and meals. Jang Tu only offers an entrée-sized seafood pancake. The thick egg-and-rice-flour round was studded with baby octopus and chiles, and rows of scallion greens had been neatly laid across the top as it cooked. We greedily dipped the pancake into a bowl of soy sauce mixed with scallions and chile paste. I was less pleased with a soup described as "Korean miso soup with seafood." A mess of vegetables, squid, unpeeled shrimp, mussels, and soft tofu arrived bubbling angrily in a stone pot. Though the red broth, chunky with fermented soybeans and chiles, looked bombastic, it tasted thin and weak.

One page of Jang Tu's menu is devoted to two-person hot pots -- not the all-you-can-eat hot pots of Coriya Hot Pot City in Richmond, but stews and casseroles cooked at the table. On my second visit we ordered the Jang Tu special hot pot with baby octopus and "end intestine." Our waiter first brought out a tabletop gas ring and a big wok filled with parboiled udon noodles and herbs. "Don't worry about this for a while," he told us. "I'll come back and stir it." He lit the burner and fetched the rest of our meal from the kitchen.

As we ate, the hot pot started to steam. From under the noodles bubbled a crimson broth, and our server came around to fold the noodles into it, bringing up zucchini, cabbage, onions, and the meats from the bottom. When the noodles and vegetables looked soft enough, we ladled the stew into bowls with a little rice. The broth was vibrant with chile paste and slightly grainy from a bit of the Korean miso, but once again it lacked the rich depth that more garlic or a meat-based stock might have given it.

I found that we'd left the baby octopus in the broth a little too long. Octopus is such a tetchy meat: You have to either heat it just until it starts to firm up, or stew it for so long that it becomes soft again. But the thick noodles had attained a state of chewy grace.

Each of my companions tried one piece of what must have been the colon end of the intestine. We chewed and chewed. "It tastes a little, um, funky," whispered my friend Chris after swallowing. We left the rest for the kitchen gods, figuring that their tastes were more old-style than ours.


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