He is going for cuisine that’s Californian with a touch of Korean.
When he was studying molecular cell biology at UC Berkeley 30 years ago, Hoyul Steven Choi commuted to campus along College Avenue.
Since then, he has worked as a scientist conducting cancer research at Stanford University — then as a restaurateur whose brunch-forward, fusion-infused vision (think bulgogi burgers, matcha lager, and mascarpone-stuffed French toast) now encompasses 10 restaurants, with more underway. It also earned him worldwide buzz for trademarking those thick, spicy-sweet slabs hailed in Instagram-land as Millionaire’s Bacon.
Launched this winter along his old commute route, the latest project for Choi and his wife, Jiyeon Choi, is Kitchen Story — a sister to their 7-year-old original Kitchen Story in San Francisco’s Castro District.
“We kept saying, ‘We have to expand.’ Oakland is the perfect place for that,” Choi said — because, in his student days, “Oakland was always where we went on the weekends to have fun.”
Formerly housing the Duchess pub, Kitchen Story’s two-level, 2,500-square-foot space features a full bar whose original cocktails include the Incheon Mule and the bacon-crowned KS Millionaire’s Mary. Consider pairing these with beef-rib omurice or Parasite-inspired instant-noodle jjapaguri studded with bacon instead of steak.
The Chois’ other restaurants include Sweet Maple, Surisan, and Blackwood in San Francisco, along with the Berkeley Social Club. While some of these showcase Thai influences, the new Kitchen Story “is Californian with a touch of Korean.”
Can we right here, right now coin the term “Cali-Ko”?
Choi enjoys dreaming up potential new dishes for his chefs to fine-tune. But his early restaurateuring days were a bit more hands-on.
“I’d wake up at 4 a.m., cook until 10 a.m., then quickly shower and travel to my job at Stanford.”
His two careers haven’t been all that different, Choi said.
“In the lab — especially in biology labs — we would do a lot of experiments, which we’d sometimes call recipes. Basically, it’s the same thing that that happens in restaurants, except that in the lab, you’re doing it with microscopic quantities instead of spoonfuls. I’m not a professionally trained chef — but in both places, you’re mixing things up, boiling, and spinning them to see what results you’ll get.”
Kitchen Story, 5422 College Ave., Oakland, KitchenStorySF.com.