Sorry for the obvious, corny joke but seriously, Soh Grill = mediocre. I was deeply misled by Eater L.A.'s recent review of it which made it seem like it’d be on par with what you’d find in KTown. NOPE.
Ambiance: The space is modernist in a “we’re trying to be modernist/minimalist” way. I don’t mind it from a design p.o.v., even if it did feel like you were eating inside an Apple Store. But two major problems with their design choices.
The acoustics are terrible. The surfaces, the architecture, etc. amplify sound which makes having a basic conversation across the table quite challenging. This is not a place that should as noisy as it is given the number of people in it; the internal dynamics of the space just make everything worse.
The tables are at least a foot wider than they need to be. By wide, I mean how far you are from someone across the table. It’s not like they hit you with such a vast array of banchan or other dishes that you need to have all that space across from someone. It’s noticeably wider than most tables you see at other Korean BBQs and it just didn’t make sense. Do they purposefully NOT want people to talk to one another? Is this a restaurant just for repressed Asians?
Note: I’m ok with loud restaurants. But a loud restaurant with unnecessarily wide tables makes dining with friends an even bigger hassle.
Service: This was…really good. Attentive, at the very least, though I did find that when they stopped by to “help” us cook our meat, they often overcooked everything. Unless their quality of meat is suspect, you don’t need to cook everything to beyond well-done, especially the pork. But in general, if we needed something, there’d be someone nearby.
The Food: To quote the review I linked above: “all of Soh Grill House’s meats are top-notch”
Well…I mean, I guess the quality of meat (FDA grade and what not) is good. But that doesn’t explain why everything was so incredibly bland. Here’s what we got:
Pork belly: bland. Pork belly, by itself, really needs something to enhance it; a simple dry salt rub, some soy sauce, anything.
Beef brisket: bland. No distinct beefy-ness to it.
Spicy pork jowl: ok, since it was effectively marinated in some kind of sauce (note: not remotely spicy) but really only better by comparison to the previous two.
Marinated boneless short rib: ok. Even with the marinade, this felt underseasoned.
Everyone at the table agreed the whole thing was underwhelming and nowhere near on the level of a conventional KTown spot like Park’s.
This perhaps reveals my bias but I’m just convinced that Pasadena has a hard time attracting/sustaining restaurants that would ever rise above “decent…I guess.” I think there’s plenty of good Korean in the SGV, it’s just that Pasadena, least of all Old Town, seems to cater to a particular kind of eater who wants to feel like they’re out somewhere “nice” but are totally happy to settle for middle of the road (or worse) so long as the decor is sufficiently bourgie. ¯_(ツ)_/¯