At The Table: Seoul provides tasty tour of Korean flavors

Food as fun -- trial and error were our only guidelines
Banchan at Seoul Korean Restaurant includes cucumbers, coleslaw, kimchi, bean sprouts and eggplant.
Banchan at Seoul Korean Restaurant includes cucumbers, coleslaw, kimchi, bean sprouts and eggplant.

LATHAM — When is the last time you enjoyed an order of sizzling Dal Sot Bibim Bab ($13.95) served in a too-hot-to-touch stone bowl? Or a dish of steaming Jahp Chae ($14.95)?

Seoul Korean Restaurant, situated in the east wing of the Peter Harris Plaza on Route 7 in Latham, offers an array of more than 30 exotic-sounding entrees in surroundings decorated simply with a few Korean wall hangings and two pairs of exquisitely detailed Korean dolls.

But the real attraction is the food — unusual combinations of vegetables with just a touch of meat, along with Korean hot pepper to liven up the dish. A starch component such as rice, noodles or flour pancake often comprises the major portion of the meal, with the other ingredients assuming the role of seasonings.

Server Helen pointed to the 20 or so booths and tables and suggested we sit wherever we choose. The first booth was convenient and Helen handed us menus. We had lots of questions and she patiently described all the dishes, grouping them based on similarities. I selected the aforementioned Dal Sot Bibim Bap, while dinner guest John chose the Jahp Chae.

Both of our choices relied on fairly common ingredients, though had we been more adventurous we might have dared to attempt entrees with squid, octopus or beef intestine. Kimchi and fish cakes were present in several of the entrees. Prices ranged from $6.95 (ramen noodles with egg and fish cakes) to $39.95 (hot pots). Most meals were around $12.

We were curious when Helen arrived with a tray of five small, shallow dishes, each filled with a condiment. Collectively called “banchan,” the contents of these side dishes could also be used as an appetizer. She carefully placed them in a straight line down the middle of the table and described each: cucumbers, coleslaw, kimchi, bean sprouts and eggplant. All possessed varying amounts of heat, except for the coleslaw and eggplant.

With no further instructions, we gingerly tasted each to get our bearings. But when our entrees arrived, we became more adventuresome: adding small quantities, stirring, mixing, tasting some, omitting others. We experimented, becoming Korean culinary chemists.

Food as fun. Trial and error were our only guidelines.

John has been avoiding gluten recently and his grilled vermicelli noodles were the “glass” variety — made from sweet potato starch and nearly transparent. Heaped on top was a colorful array of slivered and thinly sliced vegetables: red onion, orange carrots, mushrooms, deep green stems and leaves of spinach.

John described the dish in this manner: “[It was] pale brown in color. With my first bite, I was surprised to detect the flavor of a mild beef stew. I searched for the fish cake that was promised in the menu’s description, but did not find anything resembling a hockey puck. Upon further exploration, I discovered the fish flavor in the form of flat, thick ‘noodles.’ ” A sprinkling of sesame seeds garnished the flavorful mound.

My dish was just as colorful. Individual ingredients were arranged clock-like in an intensely hot, shallow black stone bowl. Shredded bright orange carrots at 12 o’clock led the circle, followed by thinly sliced mushrooms, shredded dakon radish, cucumbers, bean sprouts and thinly sliced beef. In the middle was a sunny-side-up fried egg with a few threads of deep green seaweed floating on the yolk. Hidden underneath it all was a bed of rice.

“You can eat the ingredients separately or mix them together,” suggested Helen when I looked at her quizzically. I did both, adding small amounts of the condiments, as well as chili sauce from a red plastic squeeze bottle on the table.

The egg with its runny yolk unnerved me, however. I did not want to coat the food with the yolk to create an unscrambled omelet. The solution was simple: treat the inside of the still hot bowl like a frying pan, flip the egg so that the yolk comes in contact with the hot surface and voila! Fried egg. Solid bits of egg combined quite nicely with the beef and vegetables in the bowl, and the result, which had been seasoned with assorted condiments, was a flavorful winner!

Although dessert was not served, “winner” described our entire experience at Seoul Korean Restaurant. 

Seoul Korean Restaurant

WHERE: 952 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham, 12110-1612; 518-782-9609;
WHEN: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 1 p.m.-9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $30.85 with one iced tea, but without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Limited alcoholic
beverage selections, large parking lot, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible.

Categories: Life and Arts

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