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Lighthouse Tofu In Ellicott City

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Korean restaurants continue to pop up on Rte 40 in Ellicott City, and the new Lighthouse Tofu BBQ makes the strip even more attractive for anyone who wants to venture out from Baltimore.

Lighthouse Tofu is a branch from an established Rockville restaurant just like Honey Pig came from a Virginia original. It's a deceptive storefront -- a tiny sign at the end of a shopping center with a Jerry's subs. The door opens into a bright, spacious restaurant that was packed last Saturday night. This is casual food. The menu -- at least the one that I saw -- was only three pages long. There are many variations, but you basically choose between savory pancakes as an appetizer and between tofu stews, grilled meats and octopus/noodle dishes for the main courses.

The prime dishes are the stews called soon doo boo. They're tofu stews. You pick your level of spiciness and whether you want beef, oysters, others seafood or kimchi as the flavoring. The stew comes out still simmering from the kitchen, and the waitress cracks an egg that you stir into the stew where it basically disappears among the other ingredients. The medium soon doo boo with beef and pork made a perfect winter dinner, warm and luscious in way that filled us up but didn't leave us stuffed at all.

It's a simpler place than Shin Chon Garden. The panchan -- pickled side dishes that come to every table -- were limited to sprouts, chopped garlic, a cucumber salad, and two kinds of kimchi, including a "water kimchi" that was lightly-spiced and new for me. The bulgogi and other meats are cooked in the kitchen, and they don't come with the spicy sauce or the lettuce to make little rolls. But the waitresses welcomed us even though we were the only table in the room that didn't appear to speak Korean. They explained all the dishes, checked in regularly to refill tea and panchan, and kept asking if we were happy.

And we were. The flavors were delicious, and it was just fun to enjoy different variations of Korean food. Lighthouse cooks its rice in stone pots, which they bring to the table. After the waitress spoons out most of the rice, she pours tea over the rice that has charred against the pot. That brews until they end the meal by ladling charred rice tea with some soggy grains into a metal cup. It tastes like charred rice, a palate-cleansing end to a spicy meal. The waitress said it helps digestion.

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The original Lighthouse is in Annandale (naturally) but, other than that, glad you enjoyed the Soon Do Boo...it comes out of the kitchen still boiling normally and is a great dish for cold nights (especially with the seafood option). If this is your first expedition into the world of Korean cooking, welcome.

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