Pine Tree House
9205-D Folsom Blvd
Sacramento, CA 95826
Sacramento's Folsom Boulevard is our Korean food gulch, boasting a number of tofu-soup joints, Korean grocery-video store-lotto ticket emporiums, and the mysteriously titled "Chicken and Pizza Love-Letter" shack. Among all this is the Pine Tree House, a Korean restaurant considerably more upscale - and tasty - then the exterior might suggest. Turns out the owner of the Pine Tree is the brother of the man who owns Arigato on Howe. We discovered this because he recognized us from Arigato (land of the temptingly bargain-basement priced half off sushi roll) and thanked us personally for patronizing his place. He's a nice guy.
The menu is extensive and has some dishes beyond the usual bi-bim-bap and bulgogi selections, including an interesting seafood selection - angler fish was on the menu last time I stopped in. Prices are high for what most Californians have come to expect from Korean food in the wilds of suburbia, but portions here are somewhat monolithic and ingredients quality is high. Regardless: don't come in here expecting the bargain of the century.
The Pine Tree house offers a truly impressive assortment of banchan, brought out on a special cart and replinished if you ask nicely. All the usual suspects are on offer (read: copious amounts of kimchi), and other treats include a savory egg custard, a Korean style potato soup, and a romaine salad jazzed up with an absolutely delicious sweet red-bean and chili dressing. The only thing missing were those odiferous and delightful dried fish, the stinky little bastards I recall horking down in my youth as I marveled at their little sugar glazed eyeballs - why don't restaurants around here offer them up with the banchan plate? Is it because I am whiter then the Stay-Puft marshmallow man? Is that it? Sometimes I buy them from the Korean grocery store and merrily eat them in front of the TV. I brought them to a class once and well, never repeated that particular experiment again, since I had to spend the day with tiny little fish spines caught in my teeth and breath that could actually summon housecats from the air itself.
Pork belly BoSsaam with napa lettuce and oysters
Pork belly is all the rage right now, but the Koreans have been slinging the stuff for generations, and in high style to boot. This dish, needless to say, is Weird. Whoever first thought of combining pork belly, spicy slaw, oysters, and cabbage must have had a hell of a empty refrigarator (or larder, or whatever Koreans used back in the day in their hill-side shacks). The result is in my opinion curiously delicious, but your mileage may very well vary. Certainly the combo of fatty five-spice flavored pork-belly (boiled) wrapped up with spicy slaw and cabbage, punctuated with the occasional mildly shocking flavor of a nicely sized raw oyster is a different taste sensation from the usual. Goes well with beer, of course. Korean restauants may actually just be a means via which proprietors sell lots of O.B. More research is needed.
Korean soft tofu soup with seafood (Soondubuchigae)
Korean soft-tofu soup is one of the cuisine's standbys, and I always love to get it. The combination of soft and creamy tofu with seafood and spicy red chili broth is a near perfect one, and produces a rich and delightfully slippery textural experience. This is superior winter food, but I'll take it any time of the year. Pine Tree House also offers Korean beef soups, as well as gigantic seafood stews that can feed three or four eaters. The big soups include sea-squirts. I wish there was a sea squirt in the smaller version. There are few more amusing things to have at the dinner table then a sea squirt, let me tell you. The restaurant's version could stand to be a little spicier. Ask them to bring out some spice-enhancing agents if you're like me.
Stir-fried squid with hot bean paste (Ohjinguh bokkeum)
Stir fried squid is real Korean drankin' food, and this was defnitely the best rendition of the classic I've had in Sacramento. A good combination of not overcooked squid bits, green onions, and a spicy and slightly sweet sauce made this a truly addictive dish. Of course it's not good for you, but again, we are discussing Devices That Makes You Want to Drink Beer. This is not the point.
The Pine Tree's wood interior is scrupulously clean. Korean reality TV series and news shows play on the interior flat-screen TVs - the last time I came in I was transfixed over my kimchi by a period style soap opera featuring a bunch of Koreans in traditional dress shouting at each other in a stand of perfect, swaying, pine trees. Last time featured remarkably gender ambiguous youths shaking their groove-thang in the most sparkly fashion imaginable. You won't be bored!
The Pine Tree House is definitely my new favorite place in town for Korean food other then grill-it-yerself BBQ. The combination of high quality, interesting menu choices, non-snarly staff and a nice dining room make it a real winner on Folsom Boulevard. Now go out and order the angler fish and tell me all about it.