New Koba Tofu is Underwhelming

ANNA NGUYEN/New University

Recently, I’ve had a craving for “sundubu,” a spicy red Korean stew with chunks of soft tofu. However, BCD Tofu House at Diamond Jamboree never really agreed with either my palate or my wallet. Kaju Tofu is much better in quality, but it’s on the other side of town, making it unattractive for someone as lazy as me to go to. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that I was pretty excited when Koba Tofu Grill moved into the old Blockbuster Video on Campus Drive.

The restaurant itself is a pretty hip space, with some secluded rooms for larger parties. I went with a friend around 10 p.m., and even at that hour, the atmosphere was hospitable and calming. The staff was kind and accommodating, but I’m still glad I brought a Korean-speaking friend along with me to help with the ordering process and describe to me what everything on the menu was.

After ordering, our “banchan” dishes were brought out. There weren’t any dishes that immediately caught my eye. The potato salad was good, but then again, Korean potato salad usually is. Our kimchi was a little bit watery, but we still managed to eat two plates of it. Two dishes stick out in my memory though. The first was one that neither I nor my friend could identify. It’s most likely boiled and seasoned spinach, but the flavor was a great mix of sweet and savory. A nice analogy might be bonito flakes with a light sprinkling of sweet soy sauce. Then the fish, which stands out not by any virtue of taste, but because I am always uncomfortable with my meal staring at me  while I eat it. But, compared to BCD’s fish, this one tasted mild, creamy and fresh instead of oily and stale.

Our main dishes arrived all at once: two orders of soft tofu and a side of marinated beef. The scent that bubbled forth from the soup was tantalizing, a blend of spices and flavors that were almost as deep as the broth’s red hue. Unfortunately, the taste didn’t quite match. While there was some hint of what I had smelled on my palate, there wasn’t much else except for the medium spice I had requested, which is a real pity because the tofu itself was good. Texturally, it was everything one could ask for in soft tofu, like soft tufts of clouds or fluffy white pillows.  In regards to flavor, well, if the broth is bland, the tofu will have no flavor to soak up. This problem was somewhat alleviated in my friend’s seafood tofu, which had a nice briny undercurrent. Unfortunately, when his soup went cold, it went from delightfully briny to overly salty. My soup had a different problem: the beef was hard and tough and contributed next-to-nothing to the flavor. Had they put leather scraps in, the same effect would have been achieved.

But our grilled marinated beef was a whole different ballgame. The rich, meaty smell that came off of that sizzling metal plate piqued all of my base predator instincts; unlike the tofu, the smell here matched the taste. A rich umami base harmonized with a sweet mirin, all made better by a soft texture that, combined with the sizzling hot temperature, made the beef seem to almost melt in my mouth. Unlike the tofu, the meat was a more suitable complement for the rice.

When the check came, I found that the difference in price between here and BCD was not very big: it’s still around $9 a bowl. All in all, if you want soft tofu but you’re too lazy to go across town for Kaju Tofu, this place is definitely a better pick than BCD — but not by very much.