Lotte's variety of tasty Asian fare is inexpensive, too

October 12, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Way in the back of Lotte Mart, the enormous Asian supermarket in Ellicott City, past 50-pound sacks of rice and the gorgeous stacks of green plums and Asian pears, across from the little boutique selling toy airplanes and Hello Kitty dolls, a food court sells freshly made and delicious food.

Four restaurants line the edges of the court, offering incredibly inexpensive meals that can be eaten at the wooden tables in the open, comfortable space.

Don't worry about language problems. Each restaurant has a row of pictures of the food, with prices written below. Customers simply order by number. When the food is ready, the person behind the counter shouts out the number. Customers then take plastic trays brimming with food to the large wooden tables set up in the center of the space.

This hidden treasure offers food that is light years better than the greasy steam-table stuff served at food courts in malls - and at comparable prices. Order a No. 8 at the Ikkyu Japanese Restaurant and for $7.95 you get a bowl of steaming udon soup, a serving of chicken and vegetables in a sweet curry sauce, and, improbably, a scoop of American-style potato salad.

For $6.95, Seoul Soondae offers a bubbling caldron of potato and pork rib soup, with a dish of kimchi, another of pickled radish and a third of rice. Another restaurant sells a bulgogi plate with two kinds of kimchi and rice for $6.95.

The food court is an informal place where people stop for a snack or meal while shopping. At one table, teen girls are giggling. At another, a woman picks up kimchi with chopsticks while holding a crying baby.

Lotte Mart is part of a conglomerate called the Lotte Group that, among other things, makes candies and cookies, runs hotels and fast-food chains, and even has a theme park in Seoul and baseball teams in South Korea and Japan.

Maryland has three Lotte Marts (the others are in Rockville and Silver Spring), with a fourth scheduled to open soon in Germantown. All have food courts, but the mix of vendors varies by location.

From what we tried, the Ellicott City vendors seem to be winners. Food choices range from the familiar to the less-so, from chicken teriyaki ($6.25) to steamed pigs' feet with dipping sauce ($18.95), from sushi ($14.95 for a generous assortment) to soon dooboo ($5.95), a spicy soup with tofu and clam.

Our bulgogi had super-tender marinated strips of rib eye, heaped steaming hot on a plate, with just a few chives on top for color and flavor. It came with two kinds of kimchi, one with potato and one with cabbage, as well as a bowl of sticky rice.

At Seoul Soondae, the potato and pork rib stew arrived still boiling, the spicy broth holding pork still on the bone, scallion flowers and a whole peeled potato. This, too, came with kimchi and rice.

And at Ikkyu, udon noodles were slippery and firm, swimming in a fine salty broth of scallions and other greens. The curry, though, was too sweet for my taste, and the potato salad belonged with a hamburger or some other American dish.

None of these restaurants serve desserts, but a bakery also anchors the food court, selling whole cakes as well as breads and other treats.

And while you're at Lotte, you might as well shop. Lotte sells housewares, tables and toys, as well as food such as red bean ice pops and bags of mung beans.

Lotte Mart

Where:

8801 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City

Call:

410-750-9656

Credit cards:

some vendors take only cash, others take MC and V

Open:

10 a.m. to 9 p.m., every day

Prices:

$3-$18.95

Food: *** 3 STARS

Service:

*** (3 STARS)

Atmosphere:

** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)

[Outstanding: 4 STARS, Good: 3 STARS, Fair or uneven: 2 STARS, Poor: 1 STAR

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