Find your style at relocated restaurant
So Gong Dong is a restaurant with multiple personalities, ensuring that most diners will find at least one aspect of the Korean dining experience a match for their own disposition, whether family-oriented or loner, raucous or sedate.
The restaurant was displaced by start of construction on the Nordstrom store at Ala Moana Center last fall but found its way to a larger space at McCully Shopping Center that is divided into two halves: one side smoky, lively and lined with booths; the other quiet and spare, with several tables for two. Before choosing sides, it's helpful to know the former is set up for yakiniku, or tabletop grilling, and the latter for soondobu, or tofu soup.
I don't know why I've been ending up at cook-it-yourself establishments lately, but that doesn't mean you're destined to work if you show up. Sitting on the yakiniku side does not force you to order only raw meat.
By day, plate lunches of kalbi ($7.31), bulgogi ($7.31) and meat jun ($6.97) are easy. Combos are $7.99.
At night you can sit back and have the kitchen staff do the cooking of barbecue chicken ($10.38), kalbi ($14.23) or spicy barbecue pork ($14.23), like the families that show up in the early evening with multiple kids in tow. Parents tend to prefer to receive their food cooked, knowing that kids and fire don't mix well.
I'm not even sure that adults and fire mix all that well, meaning, be careful when reaching across the charcoal grill for the various panchan and namul that accompany your order. These six little plates of appetizers, reflecting hospitality, range from the typical kim chee and mung bean sprouts to spicy crab.
Adults who dine early and don't mix well with kids will find the reception area doubles as a buffer zone for those choosing to take refuge in the soondobu side of the room. If you can quell your stomach rumblings until 7 p.m., most of the families disperse by then, and the restaurant is taken over by couples and small groups of friends.
If you want to see what you might order, you need only visit www.sogonghawaii.com's "Food" category, where nearly every soup on the restaurant's takeout menu is pictured in vivid red, and you'll get an idea of the scope of offerings -- everything from mandoo soup ($7.50) to seafood pancakes ($10.38).
The focus is tofu soup, priced at $6.97 whether you want it with sausage, clams, beef intestines, Spam, kim chee, seafood or, at its most basic and popular, a combination of beef and pork. Make note of this comfort dish on your December calendar, for those days when you're most stressed. The soondobu arrives bubbling hot in a single-serve hot pot but can be shared if you're ordering multiple dishes. The soft curds of tofu melt on your tongue, and the ground meat gives it the texture of mapo tofu, with spiciness you control. You can get it at one of four heat levels, from plain to hot.
More substantial and thickened with vegetables are pot stews of kim chee and pork ($7.50), yellow corvina ($10.38) and beef intestines ($10.38).
NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
Slices of rib-eye steak and onions cook on a charcoal grill at So Gong Dong. The main course is surrounded by panchan and namul selections.
WHAT YOU won't see online is the selection of meat offerings for the yakiniku, at $18.95 each for ample cuts of rib eye and short ribs. (Others might prefer beef tongue, tripe, beef brisket or chicken.)
Servers are expert at snipping off bite-size, chopstick-manageable pieces for the grill, and quickly take over if it looks like you're too absorbed in conversation to mind the charring pieces of meat.
Once you pull them from the fire, dip the pieces of beef in an accompanying dish of sesame oil, salt and pepper, or soy sauce and mirin, or enjoy them rolled in lettuce leaves with a bit of miso paste.
One order of meat goes a long way when combined with other dishes, such as the stone pot bibimbab ($10.38) of rice topped with assorted greens and an egg, meant to be stirred together at the table.
And a simple dish of steamed butterfish ($13.94) is Koreanized when served in equal parts kim chee and soy sauces over slices of turnip.
Whatever your mood when you walk in, you're likely to walk out happy and sated. No dessert necessary.