IN THE KITCHEN Owner Jay Chung grew up in his father Jin’s restaurant business, went off to college, worked in finance, and ultimately decided that restaurants are in his blood. He wanted to bring the Korean food he grew up with and loves to a suburban audience.
Jay’s mother, Moon, a Korean native, makes the traditional pork dumplings served there, and both his parents make the relish kimchi. Korean chef Kim and Malaysian chef Hock are the primary cooks. Chef Kim started cooking at the family’s restaurants 41 years ago.
THE LOCALE Located at the end of a minimall parking lot in Westford, the restaurant shines like a beacon at night, cheery and welcoming. The interior is a mix of contemporary and traditional, the spareness of the decoration giving a distinct Asian feel. Drum and tube shades on the lamps contribute to the modern style. Jay designed the restaurant so that customers could feel like they were taking a minivacation.
ON THE MENU Hostess Hannah and waitress Erica were very helpful, making recommendations for our uninitiated palates to try the blend of Korean, Japanese, and Chinese dishes.
For an appetizer, we had the highly touted pork dumplings ($11) shaped in a half moon, like Polish pierogies. Pan-frying provided a crispy texture that sprang in our mouths at each bite. We loved them.
New cuisine is an adventure, so we ordered the Japanese seaweed salad ($5). The colorful mound of vegetables was layered on a bed of shredded daikon radish. The traditional wakame seaweed was a very healthy-looking bright green. Shredded carrots nestled against the wakame and a black nori seaweed garnish topped the dish. Dressed lightly with rice vinegar, pepper, mirin sake, and other seasonings, the dish tasted very slightly of the sea and other wonderful, indescribable flavors.
The side of kimchi ($3) we ordered to satisfy my husband’s craving for heat was very good. Chung told us that the process of making kimchi is labor-intensive, requiring washing and cutting the vegetables and soaking them in brine. The heat comes from gochu garu, Korean chili flakes.
Seoul Kitchen’s entrée menu is divided into two types: modern and traditional. Jay told us that he wanted suburban diners to experience something new, yet a little familiar, so the modern side of the menu is a chance for him to have a little fun and experiment with dishes. We ordered the modern pepper steak ($24) and the traditional bibimbap ($18).
The steak was cooked to perfection (medium) and accompanied by tasty sautéed broccolini, plump little cipollini onions, and tamarind chili. It satisfied Jay’s goal of the new yet familiar dining experience and was a blend of nicely flavored ingredients. The side of white rice did its job of clearing the palate so that we could enjoy the next flavor.
Bibimbap is a traditional Korean dish cooked and served in a heated stone bowl. It features rice topped with bean sprouts, spinach, zucchini, carrots, radish, rib-eye beef, a sunny-side up egg, and a mild chili paste. Accompanied by a side of kimchi, it was perfect comfort meal on the icy evening we dined.
We ended with mango mousse cake ($7), a lovely confection atop a Graham cracker crust, and a creamy vanilla bean gelato ($4).
Would we visit again? Yes, yes, yes!
Seoul Kitchen, 142 Littleton Road, Westford. 978-399-0016, www.eatseoulkitchen.com.
Diane Severin can be reached at DianeAndTheBees@comcast.net.