Friday, January 18, 2013

The Road, No. 22: Seoul Garden [Eating Our Way Down Nolensville Pike]

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 at 1:04 PM

Beauty is in the eye of the meat-holder.
  • Beauty is in the eye of the meat-holder.
Welcome to The Road, my column in which I'm going to attempt — key word: attempt — to eat at every non-chain restaurant on Nolensville Pike between I-440 and the county line. I'll readily admit that even though I live right off Nolensville — Paragon Mills represent! — and revel in the diversity and quantity of its eateries, I have barely scratched the surface of what the strip has to offer. But now I'm going to rectify that, and hopefully you'll join for what's likely to be a wild ride.

Episode 22: Seoul Garden
Address: 4928 Edmondson Pike #101
Phone: 445-3613

I'm going to be up front with you: Seoul Garden is one of my favorite restaurants on The Road. If you've never been, clear your schedule, round up a crew and get your adorable little butts over there as quickly as humanly possible — Korean barbecue is some of the most fun you can have fulfilling the need for sustenance. Fire! Meat! Genius! While I do love pretty much every style of food from pretty much every culture — humanity sure knows how to cook! — Korean cuisine and its love for red pepper always comes in at the top of my list, and Seoul Garden is my top pick in town.

But I'll be honest, we don't go very often — it's pretty much reserved for my wife's birthday and other really special occasions like, I dunno, paychecks for reprints I didn't know were happening. (Sneak attack reprints are rare and must be dealt with frivolously.) My wife was a Korean cryptologic linguist in the Air Force and studied in Seoul for a semester, so she has a really deep psychological connection with the cuisine. And while she doesn't speak the language anymore — she has swapped out Korean for more functional, work-related Spanish — being able to reconnect with the culture she spent so much time studying, even if only for an hour or two, makes her really, really happy.

I, on the other hand, just like red pepper and Chan-wook Park movies. (Sidenote: Who else is stoked about Stoker? The answer should be "all of us.") Also, I love fire and large piles of meat — which is the house specialty! I know I've discussed how manning the grill is one of my favorite ways of coping with social anxiety — cooking meat is soothing! — which makes this a great place to take my mother-in-law. I can be "part of the conversation," but at any given moment I can divert my attention to the meat cooking on the table and not seem like a rude prick — it's great, probably the only time of the year I don't come across as a rude prick. It's awesome, and if things aren't awkward to start with, the whole process of cooking the wonderfully prepared, perfectly-marinated galbi and bulgogi makes for a great party.

Oddly enough, SG is the one place on The Road that we seem to run into some cross-cultural confusion/language barrier issues. I have no real explanation for it — maybe it's because we always arrive at peak hours with a big group of mostly Korean-food newbies, or maybe the server-roulette wheel just falls on "the new girl" whenever we show up. Then again, maybe it's the pre-game soju. It's never an actual problem — our orders always come to the table correct — but there have been some weird moments. But there's never a weird moment with the food: The bibimbap always rocks my socks, the barbecue blows my mind, and all of the banchans are on point — even if I do prefer my kimchee further along in the fermentation process.

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