Regular readers of this blog know that I enjoy eating out. Whenever possible I try out each new Redwood City restaurant and, if I’ve enjoyed the experience, I usually write about it. I don’t do this for every new restaurant, of course. For one thing, I like some types of food somewhat less than others. Also, I’m not a professional restaurant reviewer, and given the rapid pace of new restaurants opening in our city these days I simply cannot get to them all (if I was a professional, I’d likely have the money, time, and incentive to get out to even more than I already do). But I do pretty well, and over the years I’ve expanded my palate and have learned to enjoy some types of food that I might not have even considered in years past.
For many, many years now I’ve been a fan of Mongolian Barbecue. I am not aware of such a restaurant in Redwood City, but there is at least one such place not too far away: Menlo Park has MP Mongolian BBQ, in the small strip center on El Camino Real at Roble Avenue. I’ve liked Chinese food since I was a kid, and living in the Bay Area has introduced me to Thai food, which I have also learned to love. Now, there is a new ethnicity on the block: Korean food, brought to us by Hōm Korean Kitchen.
Hōm is apparently pronounced pretty much like “home”: when the people working here answer the phone, they don’t say “hello,” they say “welcome hōm.” Cute, no? That little witticism looms large on their web page as well.
My wife and I gave Hōm a try this week. First off, Hōm is located on Broadway just down from El Camino Real, in the spot formerly occupied by Erawan Thai Restaurant. Redwood City is the second location for these folks: they also have another one in San Jose.
Inside, the restaurant is somewhat narrow but deep. The front half of the restaurant is made up of some long communal tables, while the back half is where your order is taken and your food is prepared. The walls are mostly empty, except for some signboards that help you understand how to order. Otherwise the decor might best be described as “stark”—but the place was clean enough, and anyway it isn’t somewhere you’ll be spending a great deal of time: think of this as Korean “fast food.”
After studying the signs (or the brochure in the small rack out front, or the menu portion of their website), approach the register, place your order, and pay. You then watch them assemble your order—specifying exactly what you want as they do so. Then, grab utensils and napkins and your drink (if you’ve ordered one), and hit up the “condiments bar”—particularly if you want to spice up your food with some of their homemade hot sauce.
So what do they serve? Essentially, rice “bowls” (which aren’t in a bowl) with a protein and veggies on top. Hōm tries to simplify things by breaking the ordering process down into three steps. First, you specify your base, which is either some type of rice or salad—or a combination. Next, you specify your protein. Here you can choose from two kinds of beef, chicken, pork (which is spicy; they call it “Firecracker Pork”), tofu, or up to six types of veggies. Lastly, you specify up to three “Banchan.” In traditional Korean cooking the word “Banchan” refers to side dishes served on separate small plates. Here, Banchan are veggies that are placed on top of your protein layer. Kimchi is one of the Banchan options; the rest are vegetables you get in most American restaurants: carrots, cucumbers, and the like. You normally get three, but of course for an extra charge you can have extra helpings.
The ingredients are prepared ahead of time and your meal is assembled from those ingredients. You specify your base and your protein at the register, and then indicate which Banchan you would like as your meal is being assembled. Thus, you can see, and control, exactly what you are getting. This is a real plus for those of us who are vegan or who are avoiding gluten—both can easily be accommodated—or for those who just like to know exactly what they are getting. The rice and the proteins are served hot (well, warm), of course, but as seems to be the custom in Korean cooking Banchan are served cold. Thus, don’t be surprised, as I initially was, when you are handed a warm dish topped with cool veggies.
As for the food itself, both my wife and I quite enjoyed it. I had the Braised Beef on white rice, topped with broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms—plus a bit of green onion, which was a free extra. My wife had Korean Steak on a mix of salad and mixed-grains rice, topped with broccoli, carrots, and zucchini (and some green onion). This is what our meal looked like after we had taken a couple of bites:
Mine is in the foreground. The Braised Beef was finely shredded and had a somewhat sweet taste to it. The Korean Steak had been cut thin and then chopped into bite-sized pieces. It had a light sauce that was a bit like soy sauce and a bit sweet. Neither meat was spicy, but of course you can spice yours up if you like.
For what we got—two entrees and two iced teas—we paid right around $25, which seemed OK given the ample portion sizes. We really had only two gripes with our experience, one of which will likely be taken care of soon. First off, Hōm Korean Kitchen has only been open for two or three weeks and they were clearly understaffed. They are hiring, but during our visit there were only two employees, which was clearly not enough. One guy was working the register and handling some of the assembly duties, while the other was finishing up the assembly process—until they realized that they were running out of certain proteins, at which point the second guy had to man the cooktop. That left the first guy to both take orders and fill them, a process that takes a few minutes for each order. And while we were waiting, online orders seemed to be streaming in. Not ideal, but with at least one other person helping out things should go more quickly. Until they hire someone, though, don’t be surprised if you have to wait a bit for your food.
Our second issue is one that I’m not going to hold my breath on. See what our food came in? Those sturdy plastic containers are great for to-go orders, but are a real waste if you are eating in. Although they are reusable and are recyclable, just about everyone who ate their meal at Hōm tossed them into the trash (we took ours home and washed them out so we could use them for food storage). I’m going to stay positive and believe that Hōm employees go through the trash and separate these containers out for recycling, but even so it is a real waste to be recycling these things after each and every meal. Personally I would greatly prefer if they used washable plates and utensils for people eating in. At least the cups and utensils appear to be biodegradable.
Overall, though, a very positive experience. I’ll definitely be giving them another try. Hōm Korean Kitchen is open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., and closed on Sunday. Hōm also caters; see their website for pricing and information.
Since Hōm appears to be pronounced “home,” allow me to segue into a brief update on a Redwood City project that a number of people hopefully will someday call home. At its December 5 meeting the Planning Commission approved MidPen Housing’s proposed low-income senior housing project planned for a couple of city-owned parcels off Bradford Street along Redwood Creek. The 707 Bradford Street project has been in the works for some time, and this approval marks a major milestone in the life of the development.
I’ll go deeper into the particulars of the proposed building in a future post, but basically what we are looking at is a seven-story apartment building with an internal parking garage and, on the ground floor, a preschool. The preschool will face the creek, as will many of the apartments. Along the creek itself, between the creek and the building, there will be a park of sorts whose primary feature will be a section of the “Redwood Creek Trail.” I for one am looking forward to being able to walk along this (admittedly short) path; today this is all city-owned property that is largely being used as a parking lot. I went by the other day and took this photo from Main Street:
Compare that with the following rendering of how the site could look with the building and the path in place. Note that although the rendering doesn’t extend quite as far to the right as my photo does, the developer hopes to preserve the palm tree that you can clearly see both in my photo, above, and in the rendering:
All told the building will have 117 apartments, all of which will be for low-income seniors at the Very Low and Extremely Low income levels. Adding to that, most of the apartments—99 of them—will be reserved for people receiving voucher assistance. So this building is going to be a real help to people in need, and you can bet that demand for these apartments will be high. As for the preschool, it will be run by Footsteps, which currently has schools in City Center Plaza (in downtown Redwood City), in Redwood Shores, and in Belmont. The school is being designed to accommodate some 70 kids, and will include an outdoor play space behind the fence you can see in the above rendering.
The Planning Commission’s enthusiastic approval of the project was a very important milestone, but don’t expect to see heavy equipment on the site any time soon: there still are a couple of important hurdles to overcome. For one thing, MidPen Housing needs to both obtain a grant and secure tax credit financing, neither of which are a sure thing. Then, although the land upon which this project will be built is owned by the city, part of it was conveyed to the city in trust and is subject to certain reserved rights held by the state. Redwood City hopes to be able to adjust some lot lines and then do a land swap with the State Lands Commission for one of the resulting parcels, resulting in one that is clear of any restrictions and thus can be given to the developer, and one that will make up a part of the creek setback area. This latter parcel would remain the property of Redwood City.
Given all that remains to be done, MidPen Housing needs about a year to file for a building permit. They hope to begin construction in March of 2018, and finish up in November 2020. So even if all goes well, we’re still looking at three years before anyone could hope to move into this project. Given how excited the Planning Commissioners were, I’m sure that the City will do whatever it can to help this project along.
As you can probably see, this project is going to be a real asset to the City of Redwood City; I for one really hope it succeeds. Both the low-income apartments and the preschool will be valuable additions, and the location within the Downtown Precise Plan area is really great. Finally, I’m very excited about the prospect of cleaning up this part of Redwood Creek and making the creek the valuable asset it really should be.
The Hopkins Avenue Traffic Calming Survey of which I wrote last week is only open through next Monday, December 18. If you have not yet made your opinion known, especially if you actually live on Hopkins between El Camino Real and Alameda de Las Pulgas, don’t delay: head to the project website and cast your vote. The project will not go ahead if they don’t hear from enough of us, so make your voice heard!