Korean-influenced restaurant Ssal is now serving spring onion pancakes and yuzu-glazed duck liver mousse to a stretch of Polk Street that’s become quite the dining destination.
Both Korean-born CIA alums, they moved this year from Napa and fine-dining (Hyunyoung was at the French Laundry and Junsoo at the Restaurant at Meadowood) to San Francisco and their more casual, neighborhood-focused restaurant. The space is the former home of Troy Greek, with room for 46 diners at about 15 tables.
Hyunyoung Bae and her husband, chef Junsoo Bae, opened Ssal to address what they perceive as a lack of new Korean food in San Francisco. Simultaneously, it’s an attempt to reenter the world of restaurants after Bae was accused of harassment and fired from his post at NY’s Gramercy Tavern; he then quit his job at Meadowood after an Eater NY article revealed that firing. Now, the duo is attempting a comeback.
“Some people might say, ‘Oh, this is not Korean food,” says Hyunyoung of traditionalist diners. Presentation of dishes, like halibut crudo with perilla oil, might strike some as more fine-dining than classic Korean restaurant.
That’s partly the point: For Ssal’s inspiration, the couple points to places like Mister Jiu’s and Liholiho Yacht club, which take cues from California cuisine as much as their respective Chinese and Hawaiian inspirations.
By contrast, other touches at Ssal are quite traditional, like cast iron pots the team plans to use to cook steamed rice to order with white mushroom (when the menu expands in coming weeks). And some dishes lie in between, like beef short rib that’s cooked sous vide but finished table-side over a small coal grill.
To start, Ssal is open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, with reservations available on Resy.
A previous version of this story did not include details of Junsoo Bae’s firing from Gramercy Tavern. This post has been updated to include them.