Perhaps scarred from the long haul that was Thai-o-rama (and one too many underwhelming Korean hot pots over the years), my expectations for Little Seoul weren’t high when I first strolled in the door last November.
More than half-dozen visits later, however, the Exchange Street restaurant has slowly wormed it’s way onto my “regular” list with solid offerings, fair prices and fast, friendly service.
The menu is varied – in my mind, a bit too varied – offering a host of Japanese staples as well as Korean fare. It’s when I stray too far toward The Land of the Rising Sun that Little Seoul veers off-course for me.
Durp-Bop and Kimchi? Awesome. Sushi and Teriyaki? Not so much.
That’s not to say these items are bad. I’d certainly score them “above-average” – with some inching toward “good.” (Adam’s fav – scallop sashimi – is a delicious standout, for example). But my tastebuds tell me it’s home country cuisine where this restaurant really shines.
Hence, my Six Favorite Little Seoul Dishes to Date:
Technically a “side” not a “dish,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t list the spectacular Kimchi. Served in sets of three, the little bowls of crunchy, fermented veg both spark the appetite and cleanse the palate. Tangy, vinegary cucumber slices edge out the snappy bean sprout and classic spicy cabbage in my stomach’s race to condiment delight. But, they’re all tartly wonderful. Occasionally a salty fish cake version joins its siblings during lunch – adding an air of the ocean.
Korean-Style Pumpkin Soup
At first slurp, I was shocked by its sweetness – remarking to Adam, “this belongs on the dessert menu.” But subsequent spoonfuls revealed a coarse and nutty creaminess reminiscent of roasted sunchoke. Thickened with rice flour, it’s more dense porridge than soup – both richer and more toothsome than in other culinary traditions.
Served in a hot stone tureen, the solid Bi-Bim-Bop is a filling favorite on a winter’s night. It’s crisped white rice, mushrooms, bean sprouts, shredded seaweed, sesame seed and loads of beef chunks topped with a fried egg. Sounds like fried rice, no? Well, yes. But, somehow it transcends the Americanized Chinese favorite with an determined Asian authenticity. Maybe it’s the sesame and the delicate seaweed strips? I also recommend ratcheting up the roar with sprinkles from the side serving of chili sauce.
Pork On Fire
Melt-in-your-mouth braised pork redefines the word “tender.” Fat practically oozes between your teeth (and I mean that in a good way). Billed as an appetizer, it also serves as a perfect power lunch in this “belly crazed” town. The “on fire” part is a misnomer, however. While the pig is audaciously flavorful and a side salad adds a slight punch, it’s far from the sinus slayer the name suggests.
What Pork On Fire lacks in heat, you’ll discover in this striking stir fry. It’s a miracle I ever ordered it, frankly. And, no, it wasn’t the beef intestine that turned me off – it was “GOP” in the name. The velvety tripas pops with a intense offal flavor even while slathered in sweat-inducing chili sauce. Crisp onions and earthy vegetables add “liver and onions” overtones – conjuring visions of Korean grandmas slaving over sizzling stovetops.
My “no Japanese” rule goes out the window for this steaming crock of love. I crave the kelp broth when feeling blue or simply worn down by a morning at my laptop. Chucks of salmon, scallops, Maine shrimp, fresh veggies and thick, meaty noodles float in this simply prepared stew, which practically screams “health!”
Next up on my list to try: Nak-Ji Bokum (stir fired octopus with vegetables) and Jeon-Ju Bi-Bim-Bop (broiled eel with ginger, shredded seaweed, sesame seed and housemade eel sauce — whatever that is!).