A friend called me one day and asked if I wanted to join her for sushi. Not an unusual invitation, except for one thing: she’s vegetarian.
The venue: Seoul’s chic-trendy restaurant Kyotofu, which, as you might deduce from the name, specializes in tofu dishes with a Japanese twist. Think yuzu-salted french fries, sesame tofu dessert puddings, and salads topped with pickled vegetables and soy-based dressings. While tofu makes an appearance in most dishes, there are plenty of options for meat eaters, including chicken sandwiches and sides of sausage on brunch platters.
If the idea of eating bland blocks of tofu makes you squeamish, don’t be afraid. The tofu was undetectable in the dishes we tried, all of which could have passed for entrees at any other restaurant.
When we arrived for brunch on a recent holiday, the tofu sushi — which looked astonishingly like the real thing, based on a photo on display — wasn’t available (my friend raved about it, describing it as “delicious” and “flavorful,” though she couldn’t vouch for whether it actually tasted like fish).
I ordered the wasabi salmon sandwich, which was perfectly good but noteworthy only because it was topped with what appeared to be tangy daikon radish. My friend ordered the soy milk French toast, which also was tasty but unremarkable except for the sleek presentation, with a shot glass of syrup that mimicked the restaurant’s minimalist white-and-glass interior. Each entrée cost 13,000 won, or about $12.
What sets Kyotofu apart from other restaurants in this chic area of Hannam-dong, not far from U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, are its inventive desserts. They’re not only eye candy, they’re good.
We tried the carrot tofu cake, which came with a small side bowl of sweet soy cream that tasted exactly like cream cheese frosting, and the banana-tofu mille-feuille pastry. Both were presented with Japanese-style attention to detail — a perfectly-aligned row of caramelized bananas on the mille-feuille, and a dusting of razor-thin carrot shavings on the cake — and looked and tasted like they cost more than their 11,000 won (about $10) price tag.
If we had not been stuffed, we would have also tried some of the many other desserts on display, including the miso caramel and matcha cheese tarts.
Kyotofu also sells a variety of drinks, including coffees, teas, wine, beer, mixed drinks and sodas.
Directions: From Hangangjin Station, take exit 1 and walk straight for about three minutes. Kyotofu will be on your right, in the first floor of a two-story white building. The restaurant is located near the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art and the Blue Square theater and arts center. You can get there by taxi from U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in five minutes; ask the cab driver to head toward Hangangjin Station.
Hours: Opens 11 a.m., kitchen closes at 9:30 p.m. The bar closes at 10:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 p.m. weekends.
Prices: Most salads, brunch, lunch and dinner entrees range from about 13,000 to 18,000 won, or roughly $12 to $16.50. Desserts range in price, but expect to spend 5,000 won to 12,000 won each, or about $4.50 to $11.
Dress: Trendy casual.
Website (with English option): kyotofu-seoul.com.