With the opening of Towson Commons, the Seoul -- a pleasant little Korean-Japanese restaurant on York Road -- suddenly finds itself in the enviable position of being next to eight new movie theaters. If that doesn't fill some tables, nothing will.
Baltimore now has several excellent restaurants that serve Korean food, but they can be a little intimidating if you aren't familiar with the cuisine. The Seoul has the advantage of having a fairly comprehensible and not too extensive menu, with Japanese dishes for those of your party who aren't ready for turnip kimchee, salads made with raw fish and casseroles of beef intestine. I can't say that it's really Americanized, but it is more accessible than some.
The Seoul also has a wide-ranging selection of sushi and sashimi, which you might sample by ordering the sushi combination ($6.95). The seafood is beautifully fresh, the presentation pleasing except for a bit of plastic greenery. My only real complaint was the inclusion of what the menu called crab. If it wasn't imitation crab made from fish, it tasted so much like it that it might as well have been.
The same mushy "crab" appeared in a tempura appetizer ($5.95), which included shrimp and vegetables. I've had tempura where the batter was more delicate and grease-free, but this would certainly be a good choice for your less adventurous dinner guests.
My recommendation for a first course, though, is yakey mandu ($3.95), pretty little crisply fried dumplings filled with an engaging mixture of finely minced beef, chicken and vegetables. The same dumplings can be had in a soup-casserole called mandu gook ($6.95) as a main course. It's a huge bowl with a good beef broth, translucent noodles and boiled dumplings. It comes with rice and kimchee, little bowls of spicy pickled vegetables, some slightly sweet, some tart -- spinach, cubes of turnip, Chinese cabbage and bean sprouts.
I was happiest in general with the Korean rather than th $H Japanese food. Hae-dop bop ($10.95) is only for those who like fiery food, but the combinations of flavors and textures is addictive if you do. A large bowl of warm sesame-flavored rice is covered with shredded lettuce, a variety of thinly sliced raw fish and a garnish of nori (seaweed). You add your own chili paste -- the restaurant calls it "hot vinaigrette sauce" -- stir all the ingredients with a spoon and eat them with chopsticks.
Japanese sukiyaki ($12.95) was fun because it was cooked at the table, but the results were disappointing, the beef and vegetables overcooked and unappetizing looking. Here's where the star rating system breaks down: I'd like to give the Seoul three stars for its Korean food and two for the Japanese. Hence the average.
Still, dinner can be a bargain there; the service is excellent; and the dining rooms comfortable and not unattractive. Keep it in mind before your movie when some of the trendier places in Towson Commons itself are filled up.
Where: 321 York Road, Towson.
Hours: Open Tuesdays through Sundays 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., closed Mondays.
Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards.
Features: Korean, Japanese food.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
Call: (410) 823-6650.