At long last, chef Steve Joo’s much-anticipated Korean deli has debuted in Oakland, bringing with it a tidal wave of pillow-soft dooboo and mountains of fresh and funky banchan. Joodooboo opened earlier this month in the former Kebabery space and is currently offering blocks of soy bean curd and boxes of crisp pickled vegetables for takeout only. The restaurant’s name is a portmanteau of the chef’s own and the Korean word for tofu, a fitting allusion to the unique style of dooboo the deli serves. Joo spent months studying dooboo making in Korea before opening Joodooboo and is leveraging what he learned there along with his Northern California cooking pedigree to create something that’s both innately Korean and distinctly Bay Area.
Eventually — when the business is fully staffed up and settled into a production groove — Joo plans to offer on-site dining. But for now, if you want a taste of what might be the freshest tofu in the Bay, you’ll have to stop by in person to pick up a block to take home. Joo, who runs the deli with his long-time friend and business partner Shige Kobayashi, says seeing how customers have been cooking with and enjoying the dooboo and banchan has been the most rewarding aspect of the opening; the deli already has regulars, Joo and Kobayashi admit with a combination of humble gratitude and incredulity, as customers from the surrounding neighborhood have been returning to pick fresh chunks of dooboo almost as quickly as the team can put it out.
For those used to vacuum-sealed commercial tofu, the jiggly buff-colored blocks offered at Joodooboo may look different. But Joo insists there’s no right or wrong way to cook or eat his dooboo. Unlike most tofu, Joodooboo’s dooboo isn’t pressed, but rather gently molded in metal trays by gravity and cheese cloth, which begets a creamier end-product with a craggier exterior. He also cooks the dooboo at a lower temperature, which takes longer but means it’s softer, and since he uses reconstituted seawater and not a commercial coagulant, the dooboo gets infused with a subtle salinity that serves to underscore the soybeans’ innate sweetness.
It’s a “pretty versatile” product, Joo says, that’s just as well suited to being sliced and eaten “raw” over rice with housemade Joodooboo sauce (a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, scallion, shallots, and sesame oil) as it is to being fried up mapo style. In general, Joo encourages customers to cook the dooboo like a mild white fish; it should be patted dry and treated somewhat delicately. The eight- or 12-ounce blocks are made with organic soy beans using a machine imported from Korea, and in terms of freshness, whatever’s in the deli case will always have been made in the past 24 hours, if not that day. Right now, Joo is making a couple of batches a day; the process takes about two hours in total. Once customers take their dooboo home, it’s fine to store it in the fridge for about 5 days.
Of course, you’d likely also want some banchan to round out your dooboo dinner, and the selection at Joodooboo includes a half dozen options that rotate every week. Joo says he’s using whatever vegetables look good at the farmers market, so he’s sourcing cabbage from Dirty Girl, oyster mushrooms from Solano, and burdock from Orchard Farms. The mix will always include something pickled, something stewed, and something fermented — plus kimchi, of course. His kimchi-making method comes from what he learned spending time in Korean farming communities and offers a “balanced” flavor profile, he says.
The banchan can be ordered by the ounce or in 2.5-ounce portions, about enough for one person; there’s also the option to pick up a box of all six selections. Joo and Kobayashi say they hope people will use the vegetables to supplement their meals throughout the week. “Banchan deserves a spot on any meal table,” Joo says. They’re mostly vegan and gluten free, since the deli is using soy sauce that’s produced without wheat.
Joo hopes to open up more dooboo and banchan subscriptions in February so big fans can pick up every week. When he released the first 50 dooboo subscriptions in December they sold out in less than a day — the 40 banchan subscriptions went even faster. Mostly he says he’s just grateful that the community has so warmly embraced his idea of making fresh dooboo that’s skimmed and scooped by hand. “It sounds like a fool’s errand,” Joo says. “But there’s something to it.”
Joodooboo is now open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.