*This post was written by Jean Hsu and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs were captured by Ms. Hsu.**
Restaurant: Seoul Garden
- Cuisine: Korean
- Pricing: $$
- What's delicious: Tofu soups
- Perfect for: Korean comfort food - vegetarian options - late-night bites
Korea Town/K-Town is one of those magical gateways in Manhattan that transports you straight to Asia by way of 32nd Street. Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the rowdy karaoke-singing, soju-drinking crowds is Seoul Garden, a culinary oasis located on the second level of a non-descript building. Upon entry, the restaurant welcomes guests with a level of serenity not often found in neighboring establishments.
Seventeen years ago, Myong Ja Koo left her home in Los Angeles to follow her dreams of opening her own restaurant. For years, she helped her husband with the family's clothing manufacturing business and, finally, in her 50's, she was ready for a career change...To the restaurant industry! With the help of a cousin who was already a restaurateur in the area (now owner of BCD Tofu House), Ms. Koo began her own legacy: Tofu soup, an item that was not seen prior in Korea Town. She would also become famous for introducing the concept of "ssam" (items in which to wrap around meat, seafood, vegetables) to the neighborhood. Granted, while Korean BBQ was already popular, no other restaurants provided lettuce, radish, and rice cake wrappers to accompany the meal!
To begin dinner, we were presented with a selection of ban chan, which are traditional small plates/appetizers that are served as a precursor to the meal/entrees. Additionally, we ordered the restaurant's famous Hae Mool Pajun (seafood and scallion pancake).
Bibimbap is *the* quintessential dish that I (and, most likely, everyone else) order at a Korean restaurant. The Hae Mool Dol Sot Bibimbap was one of the best versions that I've had on 32nd Street. The bottom of the moist, sticky rice was seared to a perfect crisp and topped with a medley of vegetables and seafood.
Obviously, we had to put in an order for one of Seoul Garden's famous tofu soups! Forgoing the traditional kimchi-base, we ordered the Curry Soon Tofu sans beef, chock-full of fragrant curry flavor, tofu and vegetables. I happen to LOVE "soon tofu" dishes because they are served in a piping-hot cauldron filled to the brim with tofu and broth that's just screaming to be ladled over rice!
I can never pass up Daeng Jang Jigae, a spicy kimchi broth-based stew filled with mixed seafood and veggies. When ladled over rice, this is comfort food at its finest (especially as the weather gets cooler)!
Unfortunately, the Blue Crab preserved in Soy Sauce (a dish that the restaurant is known for and one we were excited about trying) was not particularly fresh, so we asked Patty (Myong Ja Koo's daughter and co-owner of the restaurant) to bring us a few of her personal favorite seafood dishes:
- The A-gu Jim (steamed monkfish with bean sprouts in a thick and spicy sauce) is not for the Korean food-newbie, but it was definitely an interesting addition to the table - perfect for the diner who is looking for something with a little more gumption.
- Although the Chulpan Tong Ojing Uh (BBQ squid in a special spicy sauce) was impressively prepared table-side, we found the squid to be a bit too chewy and surprisingly cold, despite the fact that it was served on a sizzling hot plate.
If you are looking for a home-cooked Korean meal served in a serene atmosphere, then I recommend checking out Seoul Garden.
Until we eat again,
Jean Hsu for The Lunch Belle