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When it comes to eating cheap, you can’t beat free. And at Pine Tree House, the free appetizers go on and on.
I had arranged for five friends to join me for Korean barbecue at Pine Tree House. I was a little let down when I sat at our table and saw a flurry of texts alerting me that three of my friends were bailing at the last minute. I’m tolerant of the occasional flakiness, but on an excursion that requires as many people as possible to get as much good food as possible? I cannot abide. I worried that with our group size whittled down from six to three, our servers would downsize our banchan in equal proportion. Banchan—the assortment of small dishes, appetizers and salads served gratis alongside the main dishes—are as much a draw as the grilled meats at Korean barbecue. But our server rolled out a cart packed tight with small platters of colorful vegetables and pickled fish, and in an instant our table was covered with bowls of kimchee, japchae, mung bean sprouts, black beans, pickled cucumber, dried squid, anchovies, potato salad, steamed spinach and sauteed eggplant. In total, our small party racked up 13 banchan plus a bowl of rice. Dinner was saved.
We ordered a small feast of fried chicken, pork bulgogi, bibim nengmyun and ddeokbokki. The last—spicy pan-fried rice balls with onions and fish cakes—was spectacular in the way that a really good, greasy Mission burrito can be spectacular. It was all big flavors, simultaneously umami and fatty and fishy and spicy and vaguely sweet. The most challenging dish was the bibim nengmyun, a spicy buckwheat noodle dish served cold with slices of tender beef and a soft-boiled egg. The gummy noodles stuck together, necessitating a pair of scissors to cut into manageable portions.
The menu at Pine Tree House isn’t extravagant or experimental. All the Korean joints dotting that strip of Folsom Boulevard offer similar dishes of similar quality. Maybe it’s the big windows, the friendly serving staff or the cozy seating. Maybe it’s the fact that its ddeokbokki kills. Or maybe it’s that three people are still served more banchan than we knew what to do with. Regardless, I’m a big fan of Pine Tree House. 9205 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 366-3323.
Ddeokbokki ( $12.99)
Bibim nengmyun ($12.99)
Steamed egg (free with meal)
Napa cabbage kimchi (free with meal)
Cucumber salad (free with meal)