Danbi is Korean for “sweet rain,” particularly one that comes after a drought. It’s also the name of Jim and Sunny Lee Turner’s new restaurant. Open for less than a month, the Turners used to own Omogari in San Jose’s Japantown.
After retiring for the second time, Turner said that his wife, Sunny, who had spent her life in the restaurant business, convinced him to start again with Danbi. If the Turners had a creative drought after leaving Omogari behind, Danbi lives up to its refreshing name.
The bright white menu is divided into familiar and easy-to-read categories, accompanied by color photographs of the dishes. For “Starters and Shared Plates,” the usual suspects make the lineup: fried rice, potstickers, rice cakes, noodle and tofu salads, and, most irresistibly, pancakes. Of the three choices—kimchi, vegetable, seafood we decided on the Vegetable Pancake ($13.95) stuffed with zucchini, carrots and green onions.
The cook called in sick that day and Sunny was running the kitchen by herself, so it took longer than usual for the pancake to arrive. It was crisp, warm and comforting on a cold day, and completely worth the wait. While running the front of the house and waiting on tables, Jim kindly explained the situation. His wife creates marvels behind the scenes and he serves them with an endless supply of consideration.
The next course forced a debate between “Korean Grill & BBQ” and “Korean Fried Chicken.” On two nearby tables, diners greedily shared large platters of golden fried chicken. Even after ordering the Beef Short Ribs ($15.95), there was a temporary pang of regret lingering at our table. Had we made the right choice? Those feelings quickly disappeared after digging into the sizzling platter of ribs. Charred expertly, they were tender and tangy from the house sauce marinade. One after another, we ate them down to the bone.
Instead of opting for one of the more familiar “Soft Tofu Soups,” we perused the nine options for “Signature Korean Soups” and settled on the Spicy Seafood Kalgooksoo ($12.95). The waitress explained that the broth was going to be thicker than a tofu soup and it would include noodles. After I ladled the steaming red broth into a bowl and tasted it, something about the meal came into focus. The soup contained clear and profound flavors: tomato, lemon, garlic, black pepper. Udon noodles are often too thick and rubbery, but these were superb. With the addition of squid, two whole shrimp and clams in the shell, this was a Korean bouillabaisse that the French along the Côte d’Azur would envy.
Despite using a variety of disparate ingredients, Sunny consistently constructed harmonious plates. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Spicy Pork Hot Stone Pot ($13.95) from the “Stone Pot Rice Bowls” section. The spiciness of the pork was balanced against the unexpected sweetness of a vegetable like bok choy. The egg on top, which I often forgo, was superbly cooked and added a creaminess to the crunchy rice at the bottom of the bowl.
Of course, six silver bowls of banchan preceded the meal: zucchini, bean sprouts, fish cakes, seaweed, potatoes and cabbage kimchi. But the main courses were the stars. If I lived in the same neighborhood as Danbi, my Sunday night go-to would include a bowl of Sunny’s sublime soup. And her BBQ. And another one of those elusive, highly sought-after pancakes.
Danbi Korean Restaurant
1092 N. First St., San Jose, CA 95112