By Christina Autry
On a road renowned city-wide for its Korean cuisine sits Seoul Garden, one of many pearls on a strand that is Long Point Road. Since the 1980’s, Long Point has become a hub for authentic Korean food, and the go-to destination for the ever-popular Korean BBQ. After all, what Texan doesn’t love a good BBQ?
Sandwiched inside one of Spring Branch’s ubiquitous strip malls, Seoul Garden’s modest façade reveals a warmly decorated interior. As can be seen in several of Long Point’s best Korean BBQ restaurants, the entrance is marked by heavy wooden doors, with wooden paneling lining the walls, underscoring the name of the restaurant carved in Korean letters.
The traditional Korean ambiance doesn’t stop at the front door; the first thing you’re bound to notice in the entryway is a large decorative water wheel, connected to a small ornamental stream with a foot bridge that you pass on your way to the hostess station. Now it’s time to get down to business. The sweet scent of grilling meats has already enveloped your senses, and you’re ready to take your place at the nearest table-top grill.
Calling ahead will help ensure that your party is seated in your own small room, if you prefer. However, tables with built-in grills in the main dining area are equally as desirable and functional, able to feed a hungry group as quickly as you’re able to cook the meat. And yes, the best way to dine here is with a group. Larger groups will be seated at tables with two grills, so you’ll need to decide which of you will be the designated grillers, with the fate of the table’s meats resting in their tongs.
The menu offers various meat combination options, from the less expensive cuts to the pricier selections such as marinated ribeye. Going with the “Unlimited Menu” for $23 per person will land you with infinite amounts of thin sliced pork, thin sliced brisket, and slabs of pork belly about an inch thick. Along with this massive feast of meat comes your choice of stew, of which the Kimchi Jigae is the most popular, plus beer, wine, or soju. Ordering the Unlimited Menu means that your whole table must participate in that selection. This is a rule common to many Korean BBQ restaurants; it helps ensure fairness and ease of ordering when the whole table can share the same food, family-style.
You are more than welcome to order extra meats to supplement the Unlimited Menu, and you shouldn’t leave without sampling the marinated bulgogi. “Bulgogi” means “fire meat,” in Korean, practically the definition of Korean BBQ itself. Trying it will doubtlessly lead you to the conclusion that thin, marinated beef, and fire is an award-winning combination.
But before your first platter of meat arrives, your table will begin filling up with small round plates of banchan. No, it would not be a true Korean BBQ experience if your entire tabletop was not covered in banchan. Scooped onto these little plates are sample-sized amounts of various pickled and spicy delights that will help cut and balance out the stream of meatiness that you’re about to enjoy. Pickled cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi (kkakdugi), spicy cucumber salad, fried tofu, seasoned potatoes, salad, and other veggies surround your grill (and you), forcing you to ration out the little table space left – when suddenly more bowls and plates arrive on a cart pushed by the server. Little table space, more food: a good problem to have.
Once your grills are switched on, and meat platter number one has arrived, the fun begins. At Seoul Garden, expect that most of the grilling will be accomplished by your designated grillers in your party. However, don’t be surprised when a server stops by and helps you flip over your meat, add extra meat to the grill, or generally assumes the role of griller for a minute or two. It’s not necessarily because you’ve done anything wrong, but they will be sure to (thankfully) correct you if so. Helping out with the grill in a come-and-go fashion is common at most Korean BBQs.
Trying a variety of meats (you may need to make more than one visit) will help educate you as to your favorite selections. From the quicker cooking, quickly consumed thin strips of beef to the thickest pork belly, you’ll have the opportunity to see which banchan pairs best, and what sauce (if any) you prefer. Don’t be afraid to throw some banchan on the grill as well; experimenting is encouraged. Make sure to request the “Go Chu Jang” hot and sweet sauce, which adds an amazing extra punch of flavor to any meat.
The most difficult part of the Korean BBQ experience is deciding that you’ve eaten way more than your share of protein for the day, and that it’s time to stop. With plates arriving at your table in a seemingly unending flow of deliciousness, it takes a strong will and a very full stomach to put an end to it. But by the time you put down your tongs and chopsticks, after one last bite of the nearest banchan, more than likely, the thought of “next time” has already crossed your mind.
9446 Long Point Rd
Houston, TX 77055