One look at the business-suited and the shopping-bag totin' hopeful rushing the awkward narrow waiting area at Stone, and you can sense the pent-up need for Korean food in the FiDi (despite the presence of Sorabol in Rincon Center). Semi-sleek Stone is just over a month old, but still seems to be in soft-opening phase (as of last Thursday, menu prices were still about 10 percent less than stated). Ironically, there's nothing soft about Stone: The dining room is a collection of noise-amplifying materials with a preponderance of ― you guessed it ― stone. Be prepared to yell.
At lunch last week, the cooking was about as solid as the granite on the tables, and as unlikely to soar. An appetizer portion of seafood pa jun ($7) were more rice starch than seafood, and not quite crisp, but if you're a carbophile, you probably won't object. Well-known set piece bi bim bap ($10) was fine, including a properly browned rice crust you had to nudge from the sides of the bowl, and a decent showing of rib eye and vegetables under its runny fried egg. But a furiously boiling stone bowl of soon du bu ($9.50) ― soft tofu soup ― was protein deficient (both the tofu, and the surf 'n' turf conglomeration of pork belly and seafood were scarce) despite a freshly cracked egg. We figure the kitchen tried to compensate for the wateriness of the broth by loading it up with kojuchang (Korean chile bean paste), but there was just too much of it. And the trio of lackluster banchan would've embarrassed any Korean chef worth his kimchi.
Given the obvious expectations for Stone, it's almost a given that the kitchen would have a case of nerves, even weeks after opening. But after tasting a trio of one-dimensional dishes, we get the feeling Stone will always be more about the fact that it exists where it does, than about the excitement of what it does.
Stone Korean Kitchen 4 Embarcadero Center, Street Level, 839-4070; 11 a.m-11 p.m., Mon.-Fri.