Though we have all been instructed not to judge a book by its cover, it’s hard not to be surprised by the treasure hidden behind Seoul Restaurant’s sketchy exterior.
Owned since 1999 by Korean immigrant Sung Ye Kim, the restaurant is virtually unknown among the Yalies I surveyed. Located at 343 Crown Street, Seoul specializes in both Japanese and Korean food, offering sushi, Korean barbeque and noodle dishes.
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The first thing that strikes you upon entering is the elegance of the décor, characterized by upholstered chairs, wooden tables, romantic lighting and a ceaseless Sting soundtrack playing in the background. But despite all its high-quality decoration, the place was virtually empty. Though my date and I came early for lunch, only one other couple had arrived by the time we left at almost one o’clock. No one ever used the bar, arrayed with a large variety of sake.
Upon arrival, we found ourselves warmly greeted by our server, Kim herself. Though never informed of my intention to review her restaurant, Kim clearly strove to make our visit pleasant and comfortable, explaining each dish as she brought it and continually checking to make sure we were satisfied.
After being seated and served a cup of tea, we began with appetizers. These ranged in price from the reasonable ($5.95 for ebi shumai, a type of shrimp dumpling) to the ridiculously expensive ($15.95 for raw cuttlefish salad). We settled on the shrimp tempura ($8.95), which proved to be good, though slightly heavy for tempura.
Next arrived the miso soup. Though hot and flavorful, it could have benefitted from slightly less salt. The soup was immediately followed by a variety of complementary Korean side dishes, an unexpected yet delightful surprise. These included fish cakes, kimchi, clear noodles, and wonderful pickled cucumbers. Kim seemed to take pride in describing each dish, commenting on their preparation and general popularity.
Though good, the appetizers did not prepare us for the quality of the meal. We ordered stone pot bibimbap ($15.95) and eel teriyaki ($21.95). There is really nothing to be said for the eel except that it was perfectly prepared: tender enough that it did not even need to be chewed, and supplemented with the ideal amount of teriyaki so as to make it flavorful, yet not overpowering.
The bibimbap also proved impressive. Composed of egg, rice, beef and assorted vegetables, Kim prepared the dish in a large stone pot (hence the name) right at the table, again making sure to explain its origins and preparation (according to Kim, bibimbap literally means “mixed rice”). Though I have no idea how bibimbap is supposed to taste, it was absolutely delicious, even for someone who is not a huge fan of beef.
Seoul proved to be something entirely beyond the ordinary pan-Asian fare that characterizes the Chapel and York Street areas. But its prices also stretched somewhat beyond the ordinary prices of the typical pan-Asian restaurant. Students should be prepared to invest a substantial amount of money in a meal. But for those who are looking for something out of the ordinary, or even just for those who wish to impress a date in a quiet and intimate atmosphere, this may be one of the best places in town.