Many people react to tofu in ways normally reserved for organ meats, fishy fish, and Arbys. But tofu, when done well, serves as a canvas for the rest of the ingredients in a dish, like a Michelangelo or an El Greco, a fantastic chef will bend the tofu to his will, creating a masterpiece, or at least a hell of a good meal. At the O.K. Tofu House in Riverside they do tofu a tad bit better than O.K.
O.K. is the type of Korean restaurant where they bring the tofu in red-earthen bowls, sizzling hot, with an almost molten consistency. Spicy? This is sweat while you eat kind of food, a culinary workout that leaves one almost drunk with pleasure (of which the Kirin beers play a role). The shrimp, clams, and thinly cut Korean beef manage to retain flavor under an onslaught of spices. Perhaps it should be noted that you can choose from four levels of spice–from non-spicy to the spicy, the latter of which we all tried at our table. We also went for the combination menu, so the amazing soup only served as an appetizer to the main entrées, of which I chose the Bibimbab–a gloriously gloppy collection of . . . well, tons of stuff. Start off with a fried egg in the middle, while vegetables and beef serve as deliciously themed spokes. From the shredded carrots, the wafers of beef, or the zucchini and bean sprouts, to the sticky rice that mixes nicely with the aforementioned ingredients, everything sort of blends into a healthy slice of ambrosia. Topping it off with a smidgen of hot sauce–and combine with the tofu soup–and I began to feel the beads forming on my brow. Ah yes, sweat. The other entrée at our table, the pork bulgogi, is also fantastically inferno-producing (albeit slightly less so than the Bibimbab), with flavorful chunks of pork mixing nicely with the almost caramelized onions.
Surrounding the entrées are small bowls of odds and ends, from a seafood salad (confirming that the rubbery texture of a seafood salad is a bit much for this writer), to small green chilies and salty, crumbly fried corvina fish–which are far different than the fish one you usually find in IE restaurants. Another tasty side dish is the bowl of anchovies and marinated bell peppers, which was tremendous, and begged for the accompaniment of just one more Kirin.
O.K. Tofu House deserves fame; it deserves better–or at least more people in it than the night we were there. If O.K. were in Los Angeles or the OC it would be full of riotous abandon, not all of it related to Soju or bottles of Sapparo. It would be the place where hipsters of all persuasions begin their night of clubbing or karaoke. Instead it sits in a mini mall near the Tyler Galleria, calling out to shoppers to stop in and sample some amazing food. There aren’t many spots in the IE where one can get stone-pot octopus, kimchi tofu, and Barbeque ribs under the same roof. The name, of course, is a misnomer, but maybe “Marginal Tofu House” and “Barely Adequate Tofu House” were already taken? Not sure. Either way, cooking here is taken seriously. And if you’re into Korean soap operas on the big screen, well, that’s O.K.
OK Tofu House 10436 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, (951) 509-5911;Mon-Thur 11:00am-10:00pm; Fri-Sat 11:00am-10:30pm; Sunday 11:30am-9:30pm