Tofu from Cho Dang GolTofu is like chopped liver in the world of haute cuisine—overlooked and undervalued. A handful of restaurants are challenging that attitude though by presenting dishes with tofu front and center. A few even take the next step and make tofu from scratch. At En Japanese Brasserie in the West Village, the menu makes a big deal over the homemade tofu, listing the timeslots that the kitchen makes up a batch each evening. It may seem like a silly touch, but on the other hand, you’d wait for a risotto or a soufflé, wouldn’t you? The white stuff here is surprisingly rich; you’d swear it’s laced with cream. You can order it warm or chilled ($7), but warm is better. And douse it liberally with the flavorful dashi broth on the side. You’ll be tempted to slurp the last morsel from the bowl. It only makes sense that tofu would be a signature dish at Morimoto, the latest restaurant created by the eponymous Iron Chef. Everything here is glimmering white; walking in feels like entering Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. The menu’s Yose Dofu ($16) is prepared tableside with the kind of panache you used to find only in fancy French places. The waiter sets down an earthenware vessel of warm soy milk, pours in a little salt mixture, and uses a little paddle to slowly stir in a most mesmerizing way. The pot is then covered and you’re instructed not to peek. Ten minutes later, ta-da—a solid pristine block of tofu. The accompanying sauce varies seasonally and recently included octopus and mushrooms. This represents a key principle in bean curd enjoyment: Tofu doesn’t have to be a strictly vegetarian food. In fact it’s most interesting when combined with meat or fish. Its allure (especially with soft tofu) is more in its texture than its taste.

Nowhere is this principle better practiced than at Natural Tofu, in Sunnyside. This Korean casual restaurant serves soft tofu in a piping hot casserole dish mixed with your choice of a number of accompaniments from beef and mushrooms to oysters and clams (between $8 and $13). The tofu unfortunately though is not made on the premises. For that, you must go to Cho Dang Gol in Koreatown. This restaurant, named for a town famed for its tofu, turns out the white stuff in more guises than you’ve ever seen before. Order the Cho Dang Gol Jung Sik ($13.95) for a sampler of dishes featuring “doo-boo,” the Korean phrase for bean curd. Pictured above, clockwise from top right, tofu: ground into a porridge with tiny bits of pork and kimchi; cubes in a miso-like stew with squash and jalapenos; curd dregs with an almost smoky flavor; and dried diamonds marinated in red-pepper sauce (this last dish part of the panchan appetizers that come free with most orders). Of course tofu production abounds in Chinatown too. The epicenter there probably is Kong Kee, where you can get fresh soy milk and tofu in several incarnations at unbeatable prices. Try the tofu at any of these places, and, if you taste with an open mind, you’ll discover a whole new world of subtle flavors and sensuous textures.

En Japanese Brasserie, 435 Hudson St., tel: 212-647-9196
Morimoto, 88 10th Ave., tel: 212-989-8883
Natural Tofu, 40-06 Queens Blvd., tel: 718-706-0899
Cho Dang Gol, 55 West 35th St., tel: 212-695-8222
Kong Kee Food Corp., 240 Grand St., tel: 212-966-1350