I’ve long thought that Western New York ought to be fertile ground for Korean cuisine. In my admittedly limited experience, Koreans like spicy food, and they like to drink.
In a place where a pitcher of beer and a double hot order of wings approaches Nirvana for plenty of people, you’d think that could catch on.
There’s a little storefront at 2298 Niagara Falls Blvd. called Seoul Garden that can give you a sense of the food. It’s got a standard Chinese menu too, so it might be perfect if you’re with someone who is unnerved by trying something new.
Right from the cup of tea, you know you’re in a different place. The Koreans use toasted barley to make a sort of tea with a mild, slightly nutty flavor.
Your best bets at Seoul Garden are the stir-fries or the stews and soups. Here the classic Korean beef dish, bulgoki, isn’t grilled at the table, as at Korea House on Evans Road. It’s stir-fried in the kitchen – but it’s only $5.75 for lunch, less than a third of the price at Korea House.
Korean dishes are accompanied by a flight of small sides called “panchan,” including kimchi, the famed spicy pickled cabbage, and an assortment that changes from day to day. We found sliced fishcake and fresh cucumber salad (at right); marinated bean sprouts and daikon cubes are regulars in the rotation.
Panchan etiquette says that if you empty one of the dishes, you can politely ask for some more. In my experience the server might give you an eyebrow if you ask for thirds, but they’ll dish up the kimchi refill all the same.
There’s also a bown of bean sprouts in broth, and a bowl of rice.
Not a bad feed for $5.75.
Our lunch companion, the Irish Shyster, chose the chicken bulgoki (at left), also $5.75. Since I had to give this meat-and-potatoes guy credit for even stepping into a den of foreign food, I didn’t give him a hard time.
I was here for the ohjing uh bokum, squid sauteed in fiery-sweet chile sauce with vegetables ($9.95). Like lots of Korean food, it’s spiked with scallion, sesame oil and garlic, a combination that plays nicely together. It’s not brutally hot, but then again, I’ve been told my yardstick might be a little warped on that score.
It’s a seafood dish I can get behind, but then again, I like tentacles. Not everybody does.