I haven’t visited St. Louis in 18 years, and I certainly don’t remember the city for its Asian food. So it was a treat to eat at a Korean restaurant there during a recent 20th high school reunion trip to rural southern Illinois.
St. Louis is the nearest major metropolitan area with a sizable airport to my little hometown, located more than an hour east. After a long flight, my husband and I were hungry. On my asking about nearby Korean restaurants, the hotel clerk directed us to one about a mile away in the suburb of St. Ann.
The first thing we noticed at Seoul Garden was the full parking lot on a Friday night. This was the first good omen; the second, a dining room full of Korean-speakers. Many were feasting on the $20 all-you-can-eat beef, chicken or pork Korean barbecue.
More tired than hungry, we chose lighter meals. I ordered chicken fried rice (닭복음밥 dak bokeumbap) made with peppery grilled chicken, Chinese restaurant–style peas and diced vegetables (carrots, corn, green and red bell pepper). I was a little disappointed they didn’t sneak any kimchi into the fried rice. The dish came with a small salad.
My husband ordered a hanshik (Korean food) standard, kimchi stew (김치찌개 kimchi jjigae). This one contained enoki mushrooms, a couple of slices of fish cake as garnish and hidden slices of rice cake (가래떡 garae tteok). It had the expected spiciness and sourness as well as welcome warmth for that cool fall evening.
Thanks to the mealtime custom of multiple side dishes (반착 banchan), diners at many of the more traditional restaurants can sample the multiple personalities of Korean cuisine. Every time I visit a restaurant for the first time, I get more excited to discover the banchan than my main course.
Among the banchan at Seoul Garden was a bowl of Gyeran Jjim (계란찜), which is a Korean egg custard. This was the first time on either side of the Pacific I’ve had it served as banchan. It was as comforting a dish as it was simple — two scrambled eggs and one cup of a simple broth (such as anchovy or dashida), baked or steamed until set.
Another side dish surprise was marinated sliced lotus root, called Yongeun Jorim (연근 조림). It was pleasantly crunchy, sweet and salty.
It’s a pity we had to leave the next morning for my reunion. It’s even more of a pity the early time of our return flight precluded our stopping there for one more meal.
10678 St. Charles Rock Road
St. Ann, MO 63074
Hours: Monday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.