Hidden Kimchi: Backyard restaurant, Forestville, Calif.
It’s easy to find kimchi and other Korean dishes in any Korean or Asian restaurant that wears its Korean bona fides on its sleeve. One click on Yelp, and you’re on your way. However, there’s no sense of adventure or discovery in that. When one diligently searches for and finds the best kimchi burger hidden in an out-of-the-way community in a suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area, that excites the culinary imagination and encourages a sense of wanderlust. Throw in a kimchi-themed mixed drink, and I believe I have found one of the best Korean fusion meals in Northern California.
Backyard restaurant in Forestville, Calif., prides itself on its “California cuisine with Mediterranean flair.” Yet it ferments its own 배추김치 baechu kimchi (red spicy pickled cabbage), the most authentically Korean kimchi I’ve had in Northern California outside of a Korean restaurant or Korean-owned grocery store. Why do I find it so hard to find traditional Korean kimchi in non Korean markets and restaurants? I have a theory.
There are regional variations to traditional baechu kimchi recipes. Each province of Korea has its own spin on the iconic side-dish, but there are three themes that run through all of them:
- Lacto fermentation. Salt + vegetable + water (in moderation) = an environment in which bacteria that are harmful to humans can’t survive, while Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium spp., and other lactic acid bacteria that our bodies need for good health, thrive in a salty environment.
- Chili paste. Hot pepper flakes and garlic made into a paste for flavor and to encourage the production of healthy bacteria to preserve the kimchi for months, even years.
- Seafood. Fish sauce, salted shrimp or even raw oysters are common ingredients in Korean kimchi, depending on which region of Korea the chef originates.
The problem, as I see it, with most mass-produced kimchi products produced in America, is they have a very hard time finding a vegetarian substitute for the fish sauce or salted shrimp that most Korean chefs use in their recipes, which have been handed down from the family for generations. Vegetarian kimchi concoctions common in the States replace salted shrimp and/or fish sauce with seaweed. They also tend to reduce the amount of garlic and increase the amount of ginger.
In our house, ginger-forward kimchi is nicknamed “hippy kimchi.” (One authentic Korean kimchi does prominently feature ginger — 고수김치 Gosu Kimchi.) I was happy to discover that Backyard’s kimchi did not travel the hippy trail when developing their kimchi for their restaurant menu.
And the restaurant incorporates its take on the standard hanshik (Korean food) pickle into appetizers, sandwiches and even a mixed drink.
The western Sonoma County restaurant’s Bloody Mary gets its kick and tang from a hint of horseradish, splash of fermented hot sauce, mouthful of house-fermented kimchi and a pickled olive. The server also brought me a small side of kimchi with it.
Backyard will happily add kimchi to any of their sandwiches for $2 extra, so DH and I asked for kimchi on a Tim’s Burger ($14.50 + $2 for kimchi). Hubby had his burger cooked medium-well, with a slice of melted Portuguese white cheddar. I asked for my mine cooked medium without cheese. The kimchi was rested under the burger, rather than on top. Both our burgers came with two spears of traditional American dill pickles and a small bowl of potato salad.
You can also try the Tim’s Burger topped with kimchi, bacon and an over easy egg, which Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s BiteClub listed as one of the Best Sonoma County Restaurant Meals of 2017.
If you’re not in the mood for beef at all, try the BLK (bacon, lettuce and kimchi; $14) sandwich, which comes with aioli and is served on a Nightingale seeded sourdough roll.
Most of Backyard’s seating is outdoors, or at least it felt that way from the outside. Even though it was over 100F when we showed up at Backyard’s outside patio on the Friday afternoon before Labor day, we didn’t feel it, as the outdoor patio is covered with a canopy of protection by the boughs of beautifully large trees.
We chose to sit at a cozy, two seat table, which we reached, sitting on high bar chairs with our feet unable to touch the ground.
On of the most important decisions to consider when ordering a meal at any restaurant is finding the beverage that will best enhance the dish you order.
For the sake of full disclosure, neither DH or I like “hoppy” beers. Nothing good can come to your taste buds if you bathe your mouth in a hoppy beer before ingesting a spicy, fermented mouthful of kimchi.
My DH ordered a tall frosted glass of 3 Disciples Magic Peel Saison Beer? With only 18 international bitterness units (IBU), this refreshing wheat beer with a hint of lemon didn’t fight a bitter battle on DH’s palette with the kimchi in his burger.
If 3 Disciples Magic Peel is not in season when you visit, ask your server to bring you whatever wheat beer or Saison beer they’re currently serving.
6566 Front St., Forestville, CA 95436
Monday, Thursday: 11 a.m.–9 p.m.
Tuesday, Wednesday: Closed
Thursday: 11 a.m.–9 p.m.
Friday: 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m.–8:30 p.m.