Not your average fare from a food court

TAKEOUT

Korean dishes go beyond the expected

February 23, 2005|By Tom Waldron | Tom Waldron,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Enter Seoul Plaza, a diminutive shopping center carved from a former J.C. Penney's at Security Square Mall, and you feel like you've left the United States behind.

Together, the fragrances, wares and language give visitors a sense of what it must be like to peruse a small mall in Korea where you might acquire a chest of drawers, some restorative ginseng and a savory meal to go.

We came for the food court, where ordinarily you'd expect the usual collection of chain offerings. Instead, Seoul Plaza boasts a cluster of carryouts featuring Vietnamese, Chinese and of course, Korean food. We zeroed in on Seoul Garden, which had tempting photos of hotpot dishes and other specialties posted over a shelf lined with pretty stands of lucky bamboo.

As we deliberated over what to order, I made the most of my friend's knowledge of Korean cuisine, but also relied a bit on guesswork. Complete descriptions of various dishes were not available. And the friendly woman who took our order spoke very little English and we knew even less Korean. We placed our order by numbers.

Dinner, it turned out, was quite adequate - and advanced our experience of Korean fare beyond popular dishes such as bul kogi, a marinated beef dish served on rice.

At home, the short beef rib soup ($6.95), a rich, clear broth with chunks of meat on the bone, was pronounced tender and restorative. The bean paste hotpot ($4.50), a peppery red broth made with fish stock and filled with silken bean curd, combined zip and comfort.

And the seafood pancakes, called p'ajon ($7.95), were a lovely variation on an omelet. Stuffed with shrimp and scallions, the pancakes didn't become soggy or gooey at room temperature. Seoul Garden's version of bul kogi ($7.95) was straightforward and satisfying. With its stronger flavors, the kimchi beef fried ($5.50) was a little more challenging for unaccustomed palates. The meal came with two sides of kimchi, an acquired taste I'm happy to have acquired.

Because of the language barrier and our many orders, it took about 20 minutes for dinner to be ready.

It was enough time to wander through the mall, watch a little Korean television in the food court and explore the international market on the first floor for sweets, because there weren't any offered at Seoul Garden.

Seoul Garden

Food: **1/2

Service: **1/2

Waiting area: ***

Parking: ***

Where: Seoul Plaza second floor, Security Square Mall, 6901 Security Blvd.

Phone: 410-944-9300

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Prices: Wide range of Korean appetizers and entrees, $4 to $9; no credit cards

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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