Banchan (sidedishes including kimchi), BBQ Chicken, Fish Egg Soup
Occupation: Health Researcher
Location: El Cerrito
Favorite Restaurant: Sahn Maru Korean BBQ
Reviewed Sahn Maru Korean BBQ: Friday, December 26, 2008
Oh, how I longed for a great local Korean restaurant during the ten years of my residence in the Bay Area before Sahn Maru opened its doors on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Ever since 2004, Sahn Maru has been my go-to Korean restaurant whenever I felt my hunger pangs for authentic Korean food. No longer did I have to endure terrible service from the many decent, but not so customer-oriented Korean joints in the East Bay. I could go to Sahn Maru, where they treated every customer respectfully, from the young to the old, from the Korean to the non-Korean.
The spacious restaurant is filled with tables made from large wooden slabs and chairs with tied on cushions. There is a large T.V., a Korean restaurant staple, and some traditional figurines decorate the counters. Some pictures of the food line one side of the wall. There are also some questionable pieces like a large wooden sculpture of a woman with her a** in the air. That one gave me and my friends a couple of chuckles. There are a few other random behinds on the wall too.
Sahn Maru is my favorite Korean restaurant because they have great food and great services. Their fish egg soup (pollock), seafood bi bim bap, pork bone and potato stew (gam ja tang), soft tofu stew, pork ribs, and crab stew are some of my go-to dishes, but no matter what I order, they always serve up the same great ban chan (side dishes). Their ban chans are well seasoned and generously portioned. You can always ask for more, too, and the staff is eager to refill! My favorite ban chan is the spicy anchovies. It sounds kind of gross, but they are packed full of calcium and taste mostly like the sugary, peppery flavorings they are covered in.
Sahn Maru has great dishes for carnivores that my husband orders every single time, but in my opinion, their strength is in their stews and soups. The fish egg soup (al chi gae) has a deep, complex, and full flavor. You might even enjoy the fish egg sacks too, once you get over the unusual texture. The gam ja tang also has a thick soup base that must have at least a dozen different spices in it. You know that it's had enough time to simmer because the meat crumbles off the bones. Their noodles for the kal gook soo are made in-house and are chewy- delicious. If you must have a meat dish, I recommend the spicy pork ribs. The marinade is soaked into every fiber, filling each bite of the meat with yummy goodness.
The only dish that I've questioned is the pork bok kum (stir fry), in which they use bacon. When I ordered it, the owner warned that they do this dish a bit differently, but I was still disappointed by the soggy bacon. Bacon is meant to be consumed crispy!
The attentive and friendly service is what truly sets apart this restaurant from other Korean restaurants. They are very helpful to new customers, especially those who seem like they might be new to Korean food. I've often heard the owner and the waitstaff explain and recommend various dishes, even warning customers of how spicy a dish might be.
Sahn Maru owners and staff always greet me with a warm smile and even notice when I haven't been there recently. I've had my rehearsal dinner there and various birthday parties and gatherings in the large private room that customers can use for free. The restaurant is also exceptionally great for those with young kids, because they serve a tray with rice, soup, and various ban chans for the little one at no cost.
If you've never tried Korean food, or are tired of the same ol' Korean BBQ, try Sahn Maru! There is usually plenty of street parking, or if you get lucky, you might be able to find a spot in the tiny, secret, side parking lot.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Mama's on Washington Square
Reviewed Sahn Maru Korean BBQ: Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Went into Sahn Maru, a Korean BBQ restaurant. It's a large restaurant with about 20 tables. The waiter sat me down right away. He gave me a menu, and then the waitress came over with some barley and corn tea.
I ordered the BBQ short ribs and the BBQ chicken, which came with nine side dishes, kim chee, fish cakes, mung beans, broccoli, daikon radish, mushrooms, jelly, dried fish. Also with the meal, came soup and white rice. It only took about five to ten minutes to get my order. I ate the seaweed soup first, very good. I asked the waitress if there was any MSG in any of the food, which she said no, there wasn't.
I looked around the restaurant and saw miniature kimonos in frames. On one side of the restaurant and on the other side, there are pictures of the foods you can order from the menu. At the register stood two dolls in a case, very pretty. There was also a large television screen playing. Their tables and chairs were made out of thick pine and their chairs were large.
The portions of the foods were perfect and very good. I especially liked the BBQ chicken. At the end of the meal the waiter brought over a cinnamon tea with nuts in it served cold. It was very good.
The bill came to $27.05 and I added a five-dollar tip. I enjoyed the restaurant very much. I think that maybe when I'm in Oakland again, I might make a visit to have some more of their wonderful food.
Occupation: Police Sergeant
Location: Santa Clara
Favorite Restaurant: Hayes Street Grill
Reviewed Sahn Maru Korean BBQ: Sunday, December 28, 2008
The restaurant is located on what is called Kimchee Row, and is close to other Korean restaurants. Sahn Maru seemed just like the rest from the outside, but an interesting ambiance waits within. The decor is unique, to say the least, with English Country decor (i.e. what I would imagine as tables and chairs straight from a kitchen on a Kentucky farm) mixed in with items from Korea (i.e. the huge Korean drum near the door).
Looking past the odd decor inside, the atmosphere was very warm and inviting. The waitstaff was instantly on their feet and gave us a warm smile and greeting as we passed through the doors. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday night around 5:30pm or because we were the only ones there, but the staff was very attentive. After our orders were taken, the waitress brought out my daughter's kimchee and appetizers first and then ours a bit later. The kimchee here was standard with the average number of various kimchees (I counted around seven or eight various types), however, the kimchee portions were a little on the small side (although if you ask for more, the waitress happily obliges). Also, the taste is a little off. There were one of two of the dishes that weren't as good as others, and they brought the overall kimchee taste down (probably the pickled celery-yuck).
After a sort of rocky start with the kimchee, the main dishes were finally brought out piping hot. The main courses did take some time to arrive, but I suspect it was because the food was made to order. The main meat dish was tasty and is better than the average Korean restaurants. The meat was thoroughly flavorful and was not overly sweet. Manly Korean restaurants make the mistake of making their meat too sweet, and this was not the case here. Also, the meat that came with the beef and tofu soup was good as well. The slices were cut very thinly, and this, too, was not overly sweet. Though there was one small setback, the meat was not that lean, and a little over a third of the dish was fat. My daughter loved this meat, by the way, because of the thinness of the meat; she was able to chew it rather easily.
As for the beef and tofu soup, this was delicious. The tofu didn't overpower the dish, and there was enough beef and zucchini/cucumber to balance the dish out. What really made this dish stand out compared to other Korean restaurants is the smell of the soup. This dish is usually very pungent, but at Sahn Maru, the smell was minimal, and the taste was perfect.
Overall, the main dishes were better than your average Korean restaurant, however, the kimchee was a little lacking. And although the decor was somewhat lacking, the atmosphere was warm and inviting. I would probably visit them again if I happen to be in the area and craved Korean. There really wasn't anything that wowed me enough to go all the way to Oakland for Korean food, and the place wasn't cheap. I'd rather take my family to a good restaurant locally and save gas and a dry cleaning bill (Korean food really sticks to your hair and clothes).
At the end of our meal, we were given a cup of cold, sweet tea. The tea was delicious and one of a kind. Do not leave this place without drinking this special dessert tea.