Let us go back to the most typical and quintessential of comfort food- soup. Nothing beats a good bowl or, in this case, a pot of hot soup any day. And the Korean counterpart of the comfort food staple called chicken soup is soondubu. With the many locations for good tofu soup both in San Gabriel/Alhambra and Koreatown, fans of this dish will have standards for which to judge every bowl at every place. And Young Dong tries to keep up and live up to the expectations of many. So let us begin our spoon by spoon tally and see if this place does belong to the tofu soup hierarchy.
As soon as you sit on the table an array of banchan begins to overflow and cramp your table space. Kimchi (fermented vegetables with chili peppers and salt), kongnamul (cold, boiled bean sprouts with sesame oil), pajeon (thin Korean pancakes with green onions), japchae (translucent noodles with garlic sauce and vegetables), Korean-style potato salad and a green salad were all served even before the order came.
Let's try some interesting items and combination: beef and octopus soup, seafood combination soup, the scallop sizzler, and two combination soons- one with bulgogi (thinly sliced beef with garlic and green onion served on a sizzling plate) and the other with bibimbap (mixed rice bowl with vegetables, beef, and egg with a sweet and spicy sauce on the side).
The soups came in little pots and almost boiling, perfect for the uncooked eggs they serve it with. Crack it directly on the soup and it will cook itself in almost no time. The steam coming out of these pots were almost as comforting as the soup itself. The promise the aroma brings sends hope of reprieve to the stomach; but only for the tongue to say "Please do not disappoint me". Having had many pots of these, the beef and octopus (medium) soon was just okay, the broth was not spicy at all (not even mild) and the broth lacked some depth, as if something is missing. The portion was neither too big nor too small. They actually do not skimp on beef and octopus, which were also both surprisingly tender. The seafood combination soon came with the same base broth and was filled with well-cooked mussels, clams, shrimp, and octopus. Anywhere you go, the shrimp in soondubu are always unpeeled. So for the particular diner, there maybe more work involved.
The sizzler plate was an expected let down. It came with very little scallops and a mountain of fillers, AKA bean sprouts, very typical.
The bulgogi was huhum. It was not get off your seat, standing ovation amazing, over-cooked with some pieces almost burnt. They actually give you a big portion, enough for 2-3people, so sharing is more than welcome.
The bibimbap was a big portion as well, very generous with their vegetables, beef, and rice. The egg on top has the perfect yolk to break into the rice. Now this part of the meal was delicious. For some reason, the beef was well-cooked, the sauce was a mix of sweet and spicy, and the vegetables were crisp and fresh. Although by the end of lunch, it was the to-go meal. After the spicy banchans, the soup, the meat, the heavy carb known as rice, no one can really finish anything to the last morsel.
Comfort foods are personal but the foundation is always simple: it is that which makes us feel exponentially better after each bite. Although soup is almost a surefire way to do the job, this time it did not. But this will not be reason enough to stop, there are plenty of other places to try more soondubu. And maybe there, somewhere, an almost perfect pot of comfort food awaits. On to the next, please.
Young Dong is at 927 E Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel CA 91778, T: (626)286-6031. They accept all major credit cards.