Ashley Lee is the force behind -- and the face of -- the newly renovated Jang Soo BBQ, the subject of this week's full-length restaurant review. Within the space of a year, she renovated and renamed her first cafe, then took over Jang Soo with her family. Before filing the review, I chatted with Lee.
SFoodie: So how did you go from starting Kaju Cafe (now Ashley's Cafe) to Jang Soo?
I grew up in the food business. My grandmother had a restaurant, my mom had a restaurant (both in Pohwang, South Korea) ... and I have a totally different college degree. But I love coffee, pastries, and cookies, so I opened Kaju Cafe on California Street about five years ago. We've gotten known for our Fair Trade coffee and our organic sandwiches. We serve a bulgogi cheese steak sandwich on the menu.
Then two months ago, I had the opportunity to open another business. My grandmother passed away two years ago, but my mom has all of her recipes. So I asked her, do you want to open a restaurant?
Now she's the head chef, and we make everything from scratch. We have our own garden in Mill Valley, where we grow all the vegetables and herbs. And Korean food is all about pepper paste and soybean paste -- that's the base of all our sauces. So we make all that from scratch. We try to stay organic as much as we can.
So are you adapting the menu to the seasons?
Our goal is to do what's in season. We change out menu every 2-3 weeks,
and we make all our own panchan and pickles. So if the sea bass is fresh
right now, then we'll serve it in a traditional Korean sauce. Our main
dish right now is marinated kalbi (shortribs), and we also have a traditional
seabass dish steamed chile pepper sauce and vegetables.
Did you put a lot of work into renovating Jang Soo?
Yeah, we did. At Ashley's Cafe, I started out very small, and couldn't
afford to do any renovations. This year we renovated the cafe and the
furniture, keeping the same menu. The designer is a good friend of mine,
and she then did the design here.