Seoul Restaurant, a Korean and Vietnamese dining spot in the Perimeter Place retail center on Lee Highway, has been praised by online reviewers as the best and most authentic food in Chattanooga.
While I'm fairly familiar with Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine and I'm learning about Indian food, I hadn't tried Korean until I stopped by Seoul for lunch.
I'm glad I did.
It's fascinating that preparation, seasonings and cooking techniques can turn even a fairly standard list of Asian ingredients - garlic, soy sauce, sesame, fish and vegetables - into so many different flavors and textures. When that list is expanded into foods not often seen in Southeast Tennessee, as at Seoul, the possibility for adventurous eating is expanded.
Seoul offers a complete menu with starters, entrees and side dishes, though you may not be accustomed to seeing pancakes as an appetizer (seafood and vegetable pancakes, $14.99, or kimchi pancakes, $9.99) or soup as an entrée (at least eight, ranging from hot and spicy kimchi at $8.50 to cod soup at $12.99 and fish egg soup at $13.99.)
The menu also offers a variety of stir-fry, from standard beef, chicken or pork to spicy octopus or squid. Casseroles for two ($32.99) include spicy monk fish, cod fish, tofu stew or ox intestine stew. The Vietnamese offerings include rice noodles with vegetable, chicken, pork or shrimp ($8.50 to $9.50) and pho soup in a variety of flavors.
Seoul's beverages include the usual soft drinks, tea and coffee, along with beer and sake.
The order (for one): Spring roll ($4.25), spicy shredded beef soup with vegetable.
This spring roll was bigger than usual. Finely julienned, crisp cucumber and carrot surrounded slices of crab, a hint of mint leaf and vermicelli noodles, all wrapped in a lettuce leaf and a transparent rice wrapper. Two rolls, each sliced in half, came with a sweet soy sauce dip.
The crisp veggies, soft noodles and tangy dip worked well together.
A hallmark of Korean cuisine is side dishes. While I was still eating the rolls, my server began setting out small dishes of pickled vegetables. There were kimchi, a spicy pickled cabbage; chunks of potato in a soy sauce that had a touch of sweetness; soft cucumbers and crunchy turnips in a vinegar-red pepper sauce and soybean sprouts flavored with sesame.
After I'd had just a taste, my server came out again with what must have been a quart of soup, along with a separate container of steamed rice.
The flavorful homemade broth held fine shreds of beef along with long strands of green onion and what I'm pretty sure was turnip greens. It was steaming hot, and the flavor was a nice blend of the ingredients, with enough pepper to tickle the tongue. It would have been easier to eat if the ingredients had been chopped smaller to fit better in the spoon.
I managed to polish off the side veggies and half the rice, but I came away with a full pint of leftover soup.
Only two other tables were occupied on this afternoon, and my server was taking care of everyone. She was prompt, smiling and friendly, but I had a little trouble understanding her accent when I asked about the ingredients in the pickled vegetables. The other customers greeted and spoke with her as if they were regulars.
Seoul's small entry leads to an open dining room with a dozen or so tables. The look is serene and spare, with light wood used for tables and floors and bamboo-look wallcovering, toned-down lighting and art prints spaced along the walls. A second dining room has room for larger groups.
Good food, a friendly welcome, nice service and a chance to learn about a cuisine that's new to me. I'll definitely give Seoul another try.