Saturday, April 04, 2009

Seol Ak San (Stanton, CA)

Seol Ak San
12140 Beach Blvd, Stanton, CA 90680
714.799.7977 (Yelp, restaurant has no web site)
Sat 04/04/2009, 06:20p-08:10p

You know, I think this is the first time I've written about Korean BBQ on this blog (obviously, I've had it before, but just haven't blogged about it). What happened was that Wandering Chopsticks (who I hadn't seen since Fogo de Chão) had organized a small get-together (Seol Ak San is her favorite KBBQ is Orange County), and invited me, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, and Mike of Right Way to Eat.

Seol Ak San Exterior Seol Ak San Sign
The restaurant is located on Beach Blvd in Stanton, away from "Little Seoul," the epicenter of Korean activity along Garden Grove Blvd (between Beach and Brookhurst). There's a parking lot out front, but if that's full, there should be plenty more in the back. As for the name, Seol Ak San is named after the highest mountain in the Taebaek range, situated in eastern South Korea in Gangwon province. The mountain is more commonly spelled Seoraksan, and is well-known for its bucolic beauty, especially during autumn.

Seol Ak San Interior Seol Ak San Interior
The interior is somewhat dated, but comfortable (I wasn't exactly expecting much). The space consists mostly of booths (four-seaters), but there are also stand-alone tables (for larger parties).

Stone Slab Cooking Surface Two Dipping Sauces
What the restaurant is most famous for it its use of stone slabs to cook the meat (heated by a gas burner, not charcoal); I don't think I've ever seen this method employed at any other Korean BBQ restaurant. Apparently, this lessens the smoke and grease imparted to the cooked meats. Two sauces were provided from the get go; I believe they were a soy sauce/vinegar/chili pepper sauce and a sesame oil/salt/black pepper sauce.

Seol Ak San Menu Page 1: Duck and Specials Seol Ak San Menu Page 2: Combinations
Seol Ak San Menu Page 3: BBQ Seol Ak San Menu Page 4: Lunch Specials
Seol Ak San's menu is shown above; click for larger versions. The restaurant is known for its duck, a rather uncommon ingredient among Korean eateries.

I'll begin with a run-through of the banchan, or side dishes, that we were given. I was hoping to see gae jang (spicy marinated raw crab, which Wandering Chopsticks had told me about), but alas, it wasn't there.

Lettuce Salad
Lettuce Salad
Ok, this technically isn't considered a banchan, but we were first given a bowl of salad to start. It wasn't anything special, but did provide a light, refreshing contrast to some of the heavier dishes we had.

Buh Sut Jo Rim
Buh Sut Jo Rim
The mushrooms were served with scallion, and I believe they were also marinated in sesame oil.

One of the most popular banchan, kongnamul is simply boiled soybean sprouts and green onions doused in sesame oil, served cold. Nice and crunchy, as expected.

A type of kimchi, ggakdugi is made from mu (daikon) instead of the typical cabbage. I usually find it a bit milder than standard kimchi, and I really like its crunchy texture. Nice!

Cabbage with Doenjang
Cabbage with Doenjang
A simple dish of cabbage, accompanied by doenjang (literally "thick paste"), a Korean fermented soybean paste. I expected a bit more from this dish, as I found the cabbage lacking in crispness, and the doenjang a bit too overpowering.

Mu Jo Rim
Mu Jo Rim
This was mu (daikon), mixed with cucumber, both marinated in soy sauce. It was one of the weaker banchan of the night.

Kkaennip Jeon
Kkaennip Jeon
I'm not 100% sure of the name here, but I believe this was a jeon (egg batter pancake) made with kkaennip, or perilla leaves. Interestingly, though kkaennip means "sesame leaf," the plant is not related at all to sesame. It was actually my favorite banchan, with the leaves adding a nice tang to the rich, delicious egg batter.

Baechu Kimchi
Baechu Kimchi
The quintessential banchan, we have here baechu kimchi, made with Napa cabbage. Spicy, salty, and crisp: the way it should be.

Gamja Salad
Gamja Salad
Korean-style potato salad is always something I look forward to, and this example did not disappoint.

Gut Juh Ri Kimchi
Gut Juh Ri Kimchi
This was an unfermented preparation of kimchi, made right away and meant to be served quickly. Compared to the normal variety, it was quite a bit spicier, with a texture that was obviously more "leafy." Quite good.

Sliced Mu
Sliced Mu
Instead of dduk bot sam (rice noodle paper), two plates of sliced mu (daikon) were presented for us to wrap the meats with.

Haemul Jeon Haemul Jeon Sauce
Korean Seafood Pancake [$16.99]
This was a haemul jeon, or pancake with seafoood (compared to a saengseonjeon, a pancake made only with fish), served with a sesame sauce. I really enjoyed this one, savoring the interplay between the different tastes and textures present in the pancake. Each component was apparent on its own, but the whole amalgam was well-integrated. Delicious.

Cooking Roasted Tongue
With the formalities out of the way, it was time to get grillin'. The waitresses at Seol Ak San do most of the cooking for you, and in the video above, we see the first round of tongue going on the stone.

Roasted Tongue Cooking Roasted Tongue
Roasted Tongue [$17.99]
The tongue had a slightly rubbery texture, which I expected, but was a bit tougher than I'd like. The flavor was actually quite strong and unctuous, slightly reminiscent of foie gras in fact. Decent, but not as good as the tongue I've had at Totoraku or Tsuruhashi (granted, those are Japanese yakiniku places, not strictly Korean BBQ).

Cooking Marinated Beef Ribs (Galbi) and BBQ Duck
In this video, we see our waitress cooking up some galbi and duck.

BBQ Duck Cooking BBQ Duck and Marinated Beef Ribs (Galbi)
BBQ Duck [$17.99]
Seol Ak San is known for duck, so we had to try some. The duck didn't appear to be marinated, which may explain the rather weak flavor. Some sauce would really help here. I did however, enjoy its soft, tender, texture.

Marinated Beef Ribs (Galbi) Cooking Marinated Beef Ribs (Galbi)
Marinated Beef Ribs (Galbi) [$22.99]
The meat of preference for many, galbi is basically marinated beef short ribs. Galbi, or kalbi, is typically flavored with a concoction consisting of ganjang (Korean soy sauce), garlic, and sugar. The result is a delightful flavor that pits sweet against savory--nice. The marbling of the meat was sufficient to give it a good amount of juiciness, but some pieces were overly tough.

Cooking Kimchi Bokkeumbap
The pièce de résistance of a meal at Seol Ak San is the making of the kimchi bokkeumbap, or kimchi fried rice. The video shows the process of cleaning the grilling surface and the mixing of the various ingredients. Beware: I hear that if you have rice along with your barbequed meat earlier in the meal, you will not get this.

Kim Chi Fried Rice Ingredients Kim Chi Fried Rice Cooked
The kimchi bokkeumbap consisted of rice, kimchi, lettuce, gim (seaweed), and bits of leftover galbi. We let the rice sit for a while, to have it form a nice crunchy layer of rice, à la dolsot bibimbap. The problem was that the kimchi was too tangy, overpowering the rest of the ingredients in the dish. It was tasty, but not nearly as good as the kimchi bokkeumbap at Jeon Ju.

Along with the fried rice came a complementary (if you order two rounds of meat, apparently) order of doenjang jjigae, a stew of tofu, zucchini, and chili pepper, flavored with doenjang (fermented soybean paste). Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

We ended the meal with cups of shik hye, a fermented sweet rice drink made from barley malt and glutinous rice. It was a cool, refreshing drink that was sweet, but not too sweet--a nice way to cap off the night.

All in all, I enjoyed the meal. However, as Wandering Chopsticks called this her favorite Korean BBQ in Orange County, I was expecting more--I was expecting to be wowed. Instead, I found Seol Ak San to be merely good, though I applaud them for mixing things up a bit by using the stone slab and by offering up duck meat. Oh well, maybe it's time to try Shik Do Rak...


Blogger mattatouille said...

Kevin, nice review of a Korean BBQ place in OC. I grew up there...but I rarely go. Seems world away for me. Anyways, I've been to Seoraksan in Korea and it is definitely a beautiful place.

As for LA-area korean bbqs, let me take you around. Shikdorak is way past its prime. If you want to "splurge" check out Park's or Chosun, but there are other good all you can eat places. However, I'll caveat by saying that I dont even remember the last time I had Korean bbq (or rather, paid for it). This is stuff I eat at home or at my girlfriend's grandma's/aunt's house. The best Korean bbq is at home. Why? You can do it for so much cheaper. If you get 6-8 friends together and hit the korean supermarket, you could FEAST for like...$60?...less than $10 a person. I'm talking gut-busting. If you want to get mostly kalbi, then perhaps a bit more, but the best korean meats are the unlovely ones: intestines, shank, tongue, etc.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger mattatouille said...

sorry i guess i was vague there - Chosun and Park's are definitely not AYCE. Meant to say there are other places that are also AYCE, like Mu Dung San and SootBull Guirrim (skip Sootbulljeep and Manna)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

Kevin: I am waiting for your review of the Kogi trucks.
When are you going to post that review?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger MyLastBite said...

Is the Sliced Mu a traditional wrap? I LOVE daikon and will definitely be doing this at home.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Matt: How's the Shikdorak in OC? I've heard good things about both Park's and Chosun. But I've also heard similar about Sootbulljeep and Manna. Like you, I don't have Korean BBQ that often, and I've never had it homemade either.

Evan: Kogi? Maybe never. Way too much hype about Kogi.

Jo: I think lettuce is actually the more traditional meat wrap. ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 3:37:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I know there is too much hype with Kogi. But it would be great for you to weigh in with your two cents like you did with the Father's Office hamburger. Is it worth it? Anyway, just a suggestion inspired by your review of this Korean restaurant.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 8:50:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Ah, but with FO, I didn't have to chase around a moving target and then wait in line for two hours. ;) I severely doubt the food is worth the wait. But you're right, I probably should try it out some time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 11:26:00 PM  
Blogger Right Way to Eat said...

Man, I need to start doing some of those reviews you and I have visited together. I'm way behind because of work.

Shik Do Rak in GG is okay, but I have better things of Shik Do Rak in Irvine. Park's BBQ is good, but Manna is overrated. I do like Soot Bull Jeep and Soot Bull Gui Rim.

Oh Kevin, check out Lighttown House in Garden Grove. That is one of my favorite in OC for KBBQ.

Thursday, April 16, 2009 8:04:00 AM  
Blogger yenasung said...

Have you ever been to Byul Gobchang in Ktown? It's on Yelp if you need directions. When it first opened several years ago, I think it was the only place in the city to have fresh intestines for Korean BBQing. Now I'm not so sure. Watching the fat sizzle gets me drooling every time.

*I think you could just call the mushrooms "Buh sut jo rim". Buh sut = mushroom.

*I never eat all the banchan offered at Korean restaurants, because there's stuff like the cabbage and dwen jang that I just don't find necessary to fill my belly with.

*The root vegetable is mu (daikon) marinated in soy sauce. "Mu Jo Rim".

*The kimchi is "gut juh ri kim chi". It's almost like a kimchi salad, made quickly and served right away, not fermented.

*The sliced mu is often served alongside dduk bot sam (rice noodle paper) at most Korean BBQ restaurants. I prefer the mu for it's crisp freshness with the heavy smoky meat.

Thursday, April 16, 2009 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger me said...

hi kevin, good to see another K place on your blog (last was some soondubu place where you had bibimbap, i believe). seol ak san looks ok but certainly not the best, i'm sure. i haven't been, but i am picky about K places in the la/oc counties (btw, i still have to take you and ryan to wonjo).

hope you get to try chosun galbi in k-town someday. this is CLASSY stuff but VERY good. their meats are GREAT and their naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles) are ridiculous.

soot bul gui (ayce) is also good, but lots of non-Ks complain because of the smokeyness and non-urgent service (but what would one expect from a popular K ayce place?). btw, manna is so-so.

just stay away from Neul Bom (stanton) and even Seoul Cuisine (same plaza as Sushi Wasabi) and you should be ok.

better yet, let me know next time you get K grub!

jane :-D

p.s. all the places i've named above are in my yelp:

Thursday, April 16, 2009 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

Hey Kevin, been reading your blog for a while and I'm a fan. I have to agree with a previous comment about shik do rak in GG. They changed owners and I don't think it's been as good, esp for the price. My favorite place to go is Ggul daeji or honey pig in cerritos but then again I absolutely love pork belly. I'm from OC but i recently moved out to NY. Next time you're here make sure you check out Momofuku Ssam and Babbo. They are both fantastic.

Thursday, April 16, 2009 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Mike: Yeah we're still waiting for your Urasawa post! Aaron and Danny already have theirs up. I'll keep Lighttown House in mind; I wonder what WCX thinks of it...

Yena: I've actually never heard of the place. Sounds interesting though, as I've not had intestines before; in fact, I rarely even see it on menus. Thanks for helping out with the banchan; I'll be sure to make the changes.

Jane: The soondubu place was Young Dong. Other K places I've blogged about are Jeon Ju and Surah. Wonjo looks intriguing, as it's supposedly a "seafood" restaurant. Thanks for the suggestions; I think I'll need to refer back to this blog post next time I need KBBQ!

Thursday, April 16, 2009 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

James: Ah thanks for the tip about Shik Do Rak. What's the address of Ggul Daeji? I could only find a Honey Pig in K-town.

As for NY, I was considering going to Momofuku Ko on my last trip, but ended up at Per Se instead. How would you compare it to Momofuki Ssam? Babbo is definitely something I want to try.

Thursday, April 16, 2009 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

I didn't know you were expecting to be "wowed." Favorite for me is comforting, homey food at reasonable prices. :)

Park's is really good, but also literally twice the price. And they charge for kimchi. Yeah, it's only $3 but how can a Korean bbq restaurant charge for kimchi? It also made me super thirsty in the middle of the night from the MSG.

Light Town House is my second favorite in OC. ;)

Friday, April 17, 2009 4:51:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

You're a blogger of such impeccable repute that I'd expect any favorite restaurant of yours to be astounding. ;)

Friday, April 17, 2009 2:24:00 PM  
Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

"Impeccable repute"? Ha!

I think that would be you and your meticulous reviews. I'm on the other end of the spectrum. :)

Friday, April 17, 2009 4:42:00 PM  
Blogger yenasung said...

Ggul dweji and Honey Pig are the same place. Ggul deji is a play on words, meaning Honey (ggul) and Pig (dweji - ggul is the onomatopoeia for pig sounds in Korean, and pigs are often called ggul dweji). There are locations in Buena Park (on Orangethorpe, between Knott and Beach) and Ktown (on 8th).

Saturday, April 18, 2009 6:45:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Ok, so James was really talking about Buena Park not Cerritos. What are your thoughts on the place?

Saturday, April 18, 2009 8:03:00 PM  
Blogger yenasung said...

I'm biased when it comes to Korean restaurants. I eat good Korean food at home on a daily basis, and only go out for certain things at certain places. Honey Pig is slightly different from other Korean BBQ restaurants in that its main offering is the pork belly, which is my favorite cut of meat to eat for Korean BBQ. Therefore, I eat it at home. I have been to the Buena Park location once, and the combo of pork belly grilling alongside kimchi is always a winner.

Sunday, April 19, 2009 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Looks like you got the info for honey pig. I've only been to the buena park one, i think i said cerritos last time but i'm sure you figured it out.

I haven't been to Momofuku Ko but i've heard only great things. Although you can't take pictures anymore... kinda the same reasons as jose andres i think. So I can't compare for you but it would be hard anyway since Ko is tasting and Ssam is a la carte. But definitely check it out and i'll let you know about Ko when i get my chance to go.

Monday, April 20, 2009 4:28:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Yep, I've recently heard about the photo policy. It's a shame, as I was looking forward to dining there.

Fortunately, the photography ban at Bazaar has been lifted it seems; I was just at Saam the other day and there were no issues with photos (and I even had my DSLR).

Monday, April 20, 2009 5:19:00 PM  
Blogger thngotiatr said...

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on Ko if you ever make it. On my trip to NYC my friends and I failed to acquire reservations (it seriously was such a tedious task).

As far as the Kogi truck there is way too much hype and with it recently being on a prime time tv news story I can only imagine it getting even worse. Funny thing is for me, I've had it 3x and each time I've been lucky enough to only have waited a few minutes. Food is good but not amazing, though if you do get to try it please order 2 of the same burritos. One for eating right away and another to save for the next day as I think it taste better with the latter.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 2:33:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I'm interested in Ko, but the photo policy is going to keep me away, and that's assuming I can even secure reservations...

As for Kogi, it's interesting that you've only had to wait mere minutes each time; I've heard horror stories of hour long waits. I'm pretty sure that I'd find the food good, but not that good. Someday...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 1:18:00 AM  

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