House of Orchid
4690 Convoy Street.
San Diego, CA 92111
I was made aware of House of Orchid, a new Korean restaurant, by Cathy at mmm-yoso through this post. While there appears to be many new restaurants popping up in this plaza that I have yet to try, Cathy's review of the good service and 8 plates of panchan made me want to check this place out while it was still new.
Boyfriend and I were immediately greeted by the owner of the place upon entering. After greeting us in Korean, and seeing our non-korean response, he immediately said "You're Chinese?" I nodded my head. Then I think I heard him tell the waiters that we were chinese (I'm guessing a bit here since I don't know much Korean, but that's what it sounded like.) I thought this whole thing a bit amusing.
Boyfriend wondered why they categorized us (and was a bit offended because he's not Chinese). I told him my guess was that by identifying us as Chinese, they knew what sort of dishes to recommend and such. Sure enough, the waiter who took our order asked us if we liked Korean food, if it was too spicy for us, etc.
In addition to the menu, the wall had photos featuring some of their dishes. One of the pictures featured a handmade noodle soup. I've been craving handmade noodles lately like hand pulled noodles or knife shaved noodles. I guessed that the handmade noodles here were not the same. They looked to be similar to the ones my mom has bought at korean markets. They are prepackaged and "handmade." While not as thick and chewy as the ones made fresh in restaurants, they are slightly chewier than the standard flat noodle. I asked the waiter about the handmade noodles and whether they actually made them, and he laughed nervously as said that they are prepurchased. I decided to order it anyway, ordering the handmade seafood noodle soup.
Boyfriend loves bulgolgi so he got the beef bulgolgi. We noticed that for just a few dollars more ($3 I think), you could get a combination with tofu stew. So we decided to order that, getting the soybean tofu stew.
While we were waiting for our food, I observed the owner who was very attentive. I told Boyfriend that the owner was a good businessman because of how he interacted with other customers, not just provided good service, but really marketing the place, telling people to recommend his restaurant, etc.
We sat around for a while, and the owner noticed that we had nothing in front of us and immediately yelled something out to the waiters. A waiter arrived right after, very apologetic, and gave us our panchan. I felt bad for the waiter and told him it was okay.
We were given 7 plates of panchan. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed by them. They weren't my favorite ones for the most part, and some of them Boyfriend and I ended up not eating. Like the chili peppers pickled in chili sauce.
The soybean tofu stew came out soon after. Boyfriend and I were both surprised about the large quantity we were given. Since it was in a combination order, we expected something a bit smaller. I was also very happy with all that was inside. I thought perhaps it would just be plain tofu and soybean paste. But there were clams, beef, squash and other ingredients inside. Definitely worth the extra few dollars.
This is actually my first experience with soybean tofu stew. I loved it. The strong, pungent taste of the soybean paste was delicious. It was reminiscent of why I enjoy stinky tofu. I thought Boyfriend would not like the strong taste, but he liked it also.
This was my seafood noodle soup. So after I ordered the seafood noodle soup, the owner had come up to our table and suggested I add abalone for only $4 more. He pointed to the tank behind me, said they had live abalone and it would be lightly steamed and put on top of the noodles. (I told you he was a good businessman!) Since I love abalone, how could I resist? So I agreed to order it with the abalone.
However, when my food came out, the abalone was nowhere to be found. When the owner saw this, he immediately alerted the waiters, who apologized several times in the next few minutes while we waited for my abalone. I felt bad that they kept apologizing. I watched one waiter go into the tank and get an abalone and then bring it back to be cooked. While we were waiting for the abalone, the owner brought us a plate of California rolls. We were very surprised by this gesture. The rolls were pretty tasty.
Finally, my abalone came out.
When I bit into it, I found it to be extremely fishy tasting. I don't think I've ever had live abalone that is fishy tasting. I decided to put it in my soup. The strong onion flavor in my soup absorbed the fishiness and let me enjoy the abalone more. The noodle soup was pretty good, though very strong in onion and pepper flavors. The noodles were nice and chewy.
Overall, it was a pretty good experience. By the end of the meal though, Boyfriend was no longer able to handle the spiciness and couldn't finish his soybean stew. I have to agree this place was on the spicy side. The noodle soup was spicy, the soybean stew was spicy, almost all the panchan dishes were spicy. No dish was too spicy on its own, but if you are eating spicy dish after spicy dish and you don't have a high tolerance for spicy, then it can definitely be a bit overwhelming.
After we left, Boyfriend and I were discussing service and how good service at a restaurant can really change everything. Had we had mediocre service at Orchid, the food was not good enough that we would keep coming back. But since we had such great service, we left feeling quite happy even though we didn't necessarily love everything we ordered.