Thursday, April 26, 2007

Korean Delights at Seoul Garden

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.—Brillat-Savarin

The bf and I were filling up my car with gas on Prospect Ave, when we happened to glance down the street and saw that a new owner had taken over the former Han Kuk Kwan, a Korean restaurant that we were not very impressed with. So unimpressed were we that we had never gone back after eating there once.

When I lived in KL (Malaysia's capital city), I had these two Korean friends who would either cook kickass Korean food (do they just call it food in Korea?) or take me to great, authentic Korean restaurants. I became spoilt. I mean, I remember going to a restaurant in the middle of a bunch of nondescript office buildings where nobody on the wait staff spoke a word of English and the utensils were made of solid stainless steel (old school, man). If you didn't go with someone who spoke Korean, you were reduced to pointing at pictures and gratefully eating whatever they put on your table. Yes, the food as THAT good. Now, I cannot remember the name of the restaurant and have lost contact with my two friends but the taste of what constitutes as good and authentic Korean food has been permanently burned into my taste buds. Needless to say, I have been searching for a good Korean restaurant since moving to the US but have been unable to find one....until now. The name to remember is Seoul Garden.

The restaurant is situated in a little building where Ichiban used to be before they moved into the bigger, nicer building next door. The decor has changed but the cozy setting of the dining space has not. I still love the coziness of the space and especially find the tiny little nook that serves as a semi-private dining area (only fits 4 people, I think) very adorable. But the spectacular. It's homemade (cooked by the owner's mother and brother), flavorful, authentic and delicious. Most, importantly, it's non pretentious. The owner confided to us (the bf, a friend and me) that she had asked her mother to cook up something different (think fusion) to make the food more acceptable to mainstream American diners and her mother had replied, "I don't know how to cook that. What you get from me is authentic Korean food." Wow!

Seoul Garden serves a buffet lunch from 11:30 am to 2:30pm on weekdays. I think it's USD 7 something per person. The bf and I have been there several times to eat and the buffet remains mostly the same with the exception of 3 dishes that is changed daily.

View of the buffet. The rice cooker is being blocked by the plant.

The far end of the buffet contains pickles, kimchi, lettuce leaf of a sort of wrap and sauces.

These two dishes are my favorite: Top-Bulgogi (beef), Bottom-Jeyuk (pork). I can't even begin to speculate what the seasonings are for the two dishes. I can only say...I likee a lot!

You can even use the lettuce leaf to wrap up the meat, add the sauce, (I recommend the fermented soyabean paste on the far right), roll it up and stuff it into your mouth before the darn thing falls apart. You think that after years of eating lettuce wrapped bang-kuang char, I'd be able to do this with finesse but noo....I still suck at it. Mine fell apart so I had to improvise (see pics below) You can also add a small dollop of rice to the roll but I was having technical and mechanical problems so I skipped the rice.

This was also the first time that I had tried barley tea. It's just brewed barley pearls from what I gathered and is served unsweetened. It's not bad but I prefer green tea. To me, a barley drink has to taste like good old barley-peng from a kopitiam (typical coffee-shop in Malaysia). This bland drink, I was not crazy about.

My first round at the buffet. Will only show the first round because to paiseh (embarassed) to let you know how many times I went back.

The bf went hunting and gathering next and came back with this.

Remember the lettuce roll that I was talking about earlier? It's called ssam and is supposed to look like this, pre-wrapping/rolling. The disaster comes with the rolling/wrapping part.

The bf attempting to properly assemble a ssam. Note that there is significantly more leaf than there is filling. That's just not good eats :)

Finally fed up with my crappy assembling skills, I made modified ssams and just spooned them into my mouth. Yummmy, less of the lettuce leaf and more filling. Ya gotta think outside the box!

I went back to the buffet table and put together this plate, which I proceeded to devour. After taking a few pics, of course!

Close up shot. Isn't that absolutely scrumplicious looking? It tastes even better than it looks. Like a little bit of heaven.

I am so happy to have found this little gem of a restaurant. And the service was absolutely wonderful. We went there late for lunch once and the waitress was supposed to get off her shift but she stayed to serve us and was as nice as can be despite the circumstances.

If you live in Milwaukee, you need to try this treasure of a restaurant out. I promise you'll like it. They also have dinner but that's another post.

Seoul Garden
2178 N Prospect Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202


Misery said...

I love Korean food!!
There are heaps of korean restaurants here. Seoul House, Seoul Garden, KimChi Grandma, Kimchi Tray, etc. I deal with number of Korean clients each year so I've learnt which is the best to go to. I'm a sucker for Kimchi. When I went back last year, I told my sisters I wanted to go to a korean restaurant and learnt that they hated Korean food. I tried out a restaurant and understood why. I do believe they use Thai chilli as the sauce to make Kim Chi..yes, WTF indeed.

Paris Beaverbanks said...

Oh I love Korean food! I'm glad you found one you liked in the US. We don't get buffets here though and Korean food is a bit pricey, but oooh so yummy! :)

TrueBluePenangite said...

Misery, we need to get you here and eating Korean food or I need to visit you in Melb. Definately cannot stand fake Korean food in Penang.

Paris: There is the one place in KL that you should look out for if you can find a few Korean chaps to point it out to you. It's reputed to be the most authentic one ever so should not be that hard to find. And if you visit....I'll take you on a culinary tour of Milwaukee :)