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  • Dduk Bokki from Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Pan-fried dumplings from Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Hot and sour soup from Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Dolsot Bibimbap from Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Kalbi -- beef shortribs -- from Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Kimchi soup from Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • A kimchi pancake that was badly burnt on the bottom from Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Pork Belly from Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Clockwise starting from left, spicy fish cake, bean sprouts, kimchi, seaweed and picked cucumbers that are gratis sample appetizers at Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Spicy beef stew -- Yook Gae Jang -- from Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • The interior has been spruced up at Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Kimbap from Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • The inside of an egg roll at Seoul Garden on Coliseum Boulevard.

Sunday, June 17, 2018 1:00 am

New ownership, same great Korean dishes

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Seoul Garden

**1/2

Out of a possible five

$$

With the explosion of Asian food in Fort Wayne, this place has stood the test of time.

It wasn't long ago that Seoul Garden along Coliseum Boulevard was the only Korean restaurant in the Summit City, and it is the place that many got their first taste – and maybe only taste – of the cuisine.

With new places coming and going, it is sort of like a comfortable chair. It's old, it shows its age in a lot of ways, and there are lots of shiny new options out there, but you still love it more.

But recently that comfy chair underwent an overhaul when the restaurant changed hands a year ago. And though some of the things you grew to love remain, there have been changes.

The restaurant was remodeled a bit, which was one of the good things. It still shows its age, but it has a fresh new look inside with nifty art showing a plane's path from Korea to the U.S. and other accouterments on the walls. It is spiffier, but still more function than form.

The menu followed suit. There are some new and exciting additions mixed in with the Korean staples and none grabbed my eye more than the gorgeous ddukbokki.

It mimicked an Italian dish with tubular rice cakes that looked kind of like gnocchi and a bright red pepper sauce that could pass for marinara. Carrots and white and green onions were cooked in the sauce with my choice of meat – I chose pork.

The rice cakes were very chewy and added a lot of weight to the dish, and the thinly sliced and a little fatty pork was succulent. It slapped me in the face with heat, but the depth of its flavor and texture made it impossible for me to stop eating.

The kimbap was also a welcome new taste for me. This dish, which could double as a great appetizer and was also quite pretty on the plate, was basically Korean sushi. Nori was wrapped around sticky rice, beef bulgogi, carrots and pickled daikon radish. The meat was tender and flavorful, the rice perfect and there was nothing to critique about it.

With two new tastes winning favor, I had to make sure my all-time favorite Seoul Garden offering was still up to snuff, and the dolsot bibimbap did not disappoint.

This sizzling clay pot lined with rice that gets crispy against the hot bowl held a cornucopia of treats – beef, a little kimchi, mushrooms, onions, sprouts, carrots, radish, zucchini, cucumber and lettuce. It was crowned with a sunny-side egg on top that one must mix in to spread the yolk over as much as possible. You must try it if you haven't already because it has no peers.

The tasty appetizers I have grown to love over the years were also just as good as ever.

The pan-fried dumplings were perfectly prepared and the vegetarian meat filling could easily fool any carnivore. The skins were crisp and brown on one side and soft and chewy on the other, and the filling could not have had a better scallion-infused flavor or moist texture.

The best way to try the appetizers is to upgrade your dinner to “special” so you get one of those dumplings – deep-fried, not pan-fried, however – an egg roll and one crab rangoon.

The egg rolls were exemplary with bright, colorful cabbage and carrots wrapped inside light crispy layers of rice paper. The rangoon was also up to snuff, and none of the fried treats were oily.

One new appetizer choice failed. The kimchi pancake did not arrive until halfway through my main dish, which is not exactly appetizer time. The big red pancake looked quite inviting, and I was about to forgive the lateness until I took a bite. Not only was the batter not cooked all the way, making it too mushy to even pick up and eat with my hands, the entire bottom was burnt.

The soups, at least, were tasty, and they arrived way before the main dishes. The egg drop is pretty standard but nicely seasoned. The hot and sour had the right flavor and I loved the punch of black pepper, but it was quite basic with egg and tofu but not veggies. As always, the kimchi soup was the best bet if you can handle its heat.

I do not know if the new owners are making their own kimchi, but the little dish I received gratis – along with the usual tiny sides of pickled cucumbers, bean sprouts, spicy fish cake and seaweed crisps – seemed tamer than I am used to at Seoul Garden. It was still good, but I was able to plow through it pretty quickly without a water refill, which was never the case before.

The most disappointing thing I had at Seoul Garden was also a spicy concoction. The yook gae jang was a beef stew made with clear vermicelli noodles, shredded beef, egg and a bevy of vegetables including onions, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots and sprouts.

It was hard to find any beef and what beef I found was thick slices of a cheap, tough, dry cut that had clearly been cooked separately and added to the bright red, spice-infused broth instead of properly stewed meat that was actually shredded and tender. It brought back memories of my aunt's dreadful London broil.

It was too bad because everything else about this stew was wonderful. The fiery broth was exquisite and I think you could have put about anything in it and made it yummy – except for that beef.

The kalbi had the opposite problem. The beef short ribs were fine, but the sauce was not. The ribs were tender and nicely charred to add depth as were the onions that were sizzling away underneath on the fajita-style skillet. But the signature Korean marinade coating the meat was thick and somewhat clotted. Though the sauce's flavor was right, the texture made it less appetizing.

The pork belly was a much better sizzling-skillet option as its fatty, nicely seasoned, thinly sliced meat was delectable with a sweet-salty sauce and plenty of fresh vegetables.

I felt just as welcome at Seoul Garden as I always have over the years and the people working were very friendly, but the service still lacked. There was only one server and she not only struggled to keep up with all of the tables, it was difficult to communicate with her.

But I will be back. How could I not? Seoul Garden still does enough of what it always has well and is doing some new things pretty darn well, too.

Restaurant: Seoul Garden

Address: 1820 Coliseum Blvd. W.

Phone: 484-0395

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Cuisine: Korean

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Kimchi pancake ($6.95 small; $10.95 large), dumplings ($6.95), egg rolls ($4 for 2), crab rangoon ($6 for 4), pork belly ($12.99), kalbi ($19.99), ddukbokki ($13.95), dolsot bibimbap ($12.95), yook gae jang ($12.95)

Rating breakdown: Food: *1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.