Korean food is lacking in San Francisco so I was more than intrigued when diners were loving this new Korean fusion restaurant on Polk street.
SSAL opened in April by husband and wife team, Junsoo and Hyunyoung Bae, who both have fine dining backgrounds. The concise menu is not traditional Korean perse but has nods to Korean cuisine with a Californian twist.
When I read the description of the oysters on the menu, I imagined them being cooked for some reason. Perhaps since it said “smoked”. I wasn’t crazy about the combination of the cold raw oysters with the pungent kimchi and bacon crumble. I think if the oysters were cooked, maybe the flavors would have come together more.
I liked the cleverness of the perilla leaf acting as a wrapper with minced shrimp and chive inside. The tempura batter was perfect with its extra crispy texture and the dipping sauce was spot on with its vinegary tang.
There was nothing Korean about this dish but I still devoured it. The duck liver mousse was creamy and decadent and the thinly sliced pluots added nice acidity and sweetness.
One of their signature dishes is limited so go early and GET THIS! Warm seasoned white rice+creamy scrambled eggs+briny sweet uni+salty salmon roe. Yes, it was that good and you’re missing out if you don’t order it.
Another highlight was the main course, the beef short rib. It’s essentially make your own lettuce wrap with various condiments such as pickled daikon and ssamjang (a Korean spicy dip). The beef was extremely flavorful with a delicious charred flavor. We ordered the kimchi and rice to accompany the meat.
For desserts, you can either order them individually or each person can pay $7 to try all the desserts for the table. It was an easy decision since we both have sweet tooths.
The injeolmi (Korean rice cake) cream puffs were expertly made with that crackling crust outside and creamy sweet filling. The Jeju matcha roll cake was moist and tender with a sweet cream filling and pleasant bitterness from the matcha. The corn ice cream had a great intense corn flavor. Even the farmer’s market fruits were superb, juicy and sweet.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at SSAL even though it’s not as Korean as I expected. The main dishes were their strongest and I would definitely come back to try other large dishes such as the duck (the skin looked so crispy and crunchy). Service was solid too so my rating is an 8/10.