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A Variety of Korean Delights

At La Seoul Garden, barbecued meats are the favored fare along with spicy vegetable dishes and an array of interesting dips.


Despite the name, La Seoul Garden is not some kind of French-Korean bistro. "La" in this case is actually an abbreviation of "Los Angeles." The idea is to play up the bond between the two cities.

At the front is a long, airy, window-lined room known as the patio; it has enough air circulation to permit barbecuing over live coals. Gas grills are used in the dark, woodsy main dining room.

Like all Korean restaurants, La Seoul Garden features a long list of barbecued meats. But one of the best grilled dishes, posot kui (on the menu, buseot gui), includes just a little sliced beef. It's mostly mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, enoki and button) marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and sugar, so they get slightly caramelized.

The best barbecued beef dish is the Black Angus prime sirloin steak. Some meats are marinated, and some, like beef brisket (chadol paegi), are not. It gets its flavor from the accompaniments: a sweet-sour lettuce and onion green salad, a slightly sweet soy sauce and one of sesame oil, sesame seeds and pepper.

Weekdays, you can sample barbecued pork, beef or chicken in a lunch box for just $6.99. Mine contained pork, rice, cabbage salad, vegetable tempura and an "egg roll" (a thin egg pancake lined with seaweed, rolled around slivered vegetables). The tempura was finely cut carrots, onions, potatoes and sesame leaves.

In addition to the box, there were eight side dishes, including a chewy, sweet fish cake, a vegetable pancake, broccoli with hot sauce, sweet, spicy strips of dried fish, mung bean cakes, marinated bean sprouts and a little bowl of cool, clear, tangy liquid with two floating slices of daikon. This one was refreshing with lunch. The waitress brought a bowl of hot beef broth with seaweed too. "Good for the circulation," she said.

If you want to see beautiful food, order beef shabu-shabu, which is cooked at the table. The beef arrives looking like an enormous red flower, the raw, petal-like slices carefully swirled to cover a large round platter.

The meat goes into a hot pot bubbling with broth, fish cake, tofu, glass noodles and vegetables that include ssukkat (chrysanthemum greens), nappa cabbage, enoki mushrooms and sesame leaf.

The dipping sauces are vinegar soy and a creamy, slightly sweet mustard. This is one of seven large stews designed for two, the menu says, but two people would have to be awfully hungry to eat so much food without help.

Another is haemul jon gol (haemool jungol), heaped with seafood: octopus, crab legs, shrimp, clams and mussels in spicy red broth along with mushrooms, zucchini, ssukkat and udon noodles.

Signs posted on the wall opposite the bar announce "special food" in English. Problem is, the dishes are named in Korean. One turned out to be the chicken soup sam kae tang (sahm gae tang).

The bird is stuffed with glutinous rice and cooked along with ginseng root, jujubes (dried red dates) and whole garlic cloves. The only seasoning is a dip of salt, pepper and sesame seeds.

Rock cod in a hot-sweet red sauce, undaegu chorim (eundaekoo cholim), is excellent, if you can handle hot chiles. Chewy oval rice cakes and tender, translucent daikon chunks add interesting texture to this dish.

For an appetizer, try the potato pancakes, kamja chijim (gahm ja jijim). What makes them different is the glutinous texture, the result of adding potato flour to shredded potatoes. The dip for these is soy sauce and vinegar combined with jalapeno slices and garlic cloves.

Steamed dumplings tchim mandu (jim mandu) are North Korean. Made by hand, they are carefully pleated across the top and filled with a rich-tasting mixture of chicken, tofu, green onion, garlic and cabbage.

Now a year and a half old, La Seoul Garden took over the building once occupied by Surabul restaurant and was briefly named New Surabul before adopting its present L.A.-friendly name.

La Seoul Garden, 100 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 388-1975. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to midnight Friday through Sunday. Lunch specials Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Major credit cards. Full bar. Lot and street parking. Barbecue dishes, $10.99 to $17.99; dinner menu, $7.99 to $15.99.

What to get: potato pancakes, steamed dumplings, barbecued mushrooms, barbecued Black Angus prime sirloin steak, barbecued pork lunch box, barbecued brisket, beef shabu-shabu, spicy rock cod (eundaekoo cholim).

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