Muscle cars in permanent disrepair, empty beer cans, a battered drum kit, broken lawn chairs, a tool box and oil stained concrete floors: these are the images that I associate with garages. They're a sacred place for highschoolers, even with their lack of heat and surplus of noxious fumes. My teen experience—think Weezer's "In the Garage"—was pretty common. I took refuge from the madness of pre-calc, chores, and my parents in my next door neighbor's garage.
At times we used coolers and buckets as seats to watch a group of melodramatic tweens barrel through Pixies covers. Mainly though we just cracked jokes and occasionally we played Boxhead. You don't know Boxhead? It was a drinking game that consisted of literally putting a cardboard box on your head and rolling dice to try and remove it. Sucks for you if you rolled an 11 or a 12. You'd be drinking in that box all night long.
Lucky for the young folks of the Outer Sunset, they don't need to put on a cardboard box to find booze and adventure, but they do need to go to a garage. It's a garage restaurant, actually: a Korean place called Toyose. But unlike the garage of my youth, there are no skateboards, 40 ouncers, or prepubescent boys annihilating "Here Comes Your Man."
I hopped in a cab with my friend Emily and blasted towards the sleepy Outer Sunset in search of Toyose. I saw the faint outline of the sea from the rolled down cab window as we passed Lincoln and headed towards Noriega. I peeped into the dining rooms of all the box houses and saw families sitting down for dinner. I imagined teens sitting down for their Hamburger Helper-based casserole, just itching to be excused and run to their garage sanctuary. The neighborhood was quiet aside from the
glom of "Missionites" waiting for a glass of wine and a table at Outerlands.
The cab arrived and I looked over at the address, making sure we were in the right place. Besides the winking chicken sign and the hours of operation (6pm-2am), this did not seem like a hopping restaurant; it didn't seem like a dining establishment at all, and the building blended into the garages on either side of it. I was a little concerned to see there
were no windows. I am not sure I've ever eaten at a place without any windows whatsoever, besides the food court at the mall. A whiff of nostalgia struck me: the garage, a respite from the urban world.
We creaked open the door and my jaw dropped. Much to my surprise we were in a full fledged restaurant. We had arrived early, because it fills up quickly. I had tried calling in advance for a reservation but each time had just reached a fax line.
As we were guided back to our table I took note of the semi-nautical decor (perhaps because of our proximity to the sea?). Ropes, burlap and nets wrapped the rafters and shone from the track lighting. We were seated in front of a collection of sexy posters advertising soju. Korean pop music blared in the background.
Our cute young server told us that if we needed anything at all to just ring the buzzer. The buzzer?
We looked around and noticed that each table had a doorbell buzzer. I was scared at first, but ended up buzzing without shame throughout the meal with the server running over immediately each time. At one point Emily said, "I think I just felt a drip from the ceiling," and I sighed, charmed that we were still in fact in a garage.
We started with drinks, of course.
I noticed our neighbors were drinking a very large bottle of
yogurt-flavored soju and they were smiling more and more. As an adamant hater of soju, I was disappointed that this was the main alcoholic attraction, but I sucked it up and got a large bottle of the pineapple-flavored stuff. Much to my delight, the soju was sweet and light. It wasn't like drinking the sickly saccharine Boone's Farm at all (my usual garage fare). If I was a teen again, soju would be my gateway drug into heavy drinking.
The menu was much larger than we expected, with 4 or 5 pages of traditional late night Korean fare. We started with the Banchan—traditional Korean side dishes including old standbys like pickled cucumbers, daikon, kimchi and these little dried fish (they looked like skinny guppies to me). We had to try a little bit of everything, so we ordered: kimchi and beef fried rice (oily and spicy), seafood and green onion pancake (delicious), kimchi pork belly tofu hot pot soup (I think we overdid it with the kimchi) and fried chicken wings (dangerously good).
Our tiny shot glasses were refilled at a rapid rate and the room was growing fuzzier and brighter by the minute. At the end of the meal I felt a bit of oil on my chin and my hands had taken on a glossy sheen from all the greasy food I had managed to put into my mouth. This was a good thing—I needed something to soak up the incredible amounts of pineapple soju that I had pushed back.
As we walked out of the restaurant, heading to hop on the N-Judah home, we noticed youthful faces at every table. I realized that this is the type of place for a group dinner, not romance. Though neither was the
garage of my youth, which was built for drinking, escape and general rowdiness.
On my way home my stomach was a bit disgruntled from the large amounts of grease moving through me, or maybe it was all the soju. It was just like being 17, finally removing the cardboard box, making my way out of the garage and stumbling across the street with a booze-induced tummy ache. Maybe Toyose wasn't that different from the garage of my teenage years. Unhealthy maybe, and a bit over the top, but I don't regret either experience.
Toyose is open daily from 6pm-2am at 3814 Noriega St (between 45th and 46th). There were reserved signs on the tables, so maybe you'll have better luck making a reservation than I did. Oh, and if you were curious, check out Boxhead .