I enjoy chiropractic adjustments not only because I feel better afterward but because my chiropractor is a good friend and fellow foodie. At our sessions, my wife and I wind up talking to him more about food than our spinal health. So, it was with great surprise and excitement that today we were given the highest endorsement for Southgate Garden Restaurant, only blocks away. Ever since taking over the Denny’s spot in Bellevue, Southgate had been a mediocre restaurant, not bad but not great either. Recently, there had been an ownership change though the name remained the same. As I understand it, the folks who prepared banchan at the back corner of Paldo Market, now closed, took over. Our chiropractor told us that a few of his Korean patients gave their recommendation. He is now a regular customer. Could there be a challenger to Seoul Hotpot, our favorite on the Eastside? We immediately went there after our adjustments to find out.
The first thing we noticed was that the parking lot was full, even at lunchtime. This was very rare before. When we walked in, there were no obvious physical changes to the layout or decor, basically the same as before. But most of the tables were occupied, consistent with the parking situation outside. We were seated in one of the remaining free booths.
There is a lunch menu, a welcome change from the “old” Southgate, consisting of a variety of bibimbop (rice bowls with savory toppings), soups, stews and soon dubu (soft tofu stews). The barbecued items are reserved only for dinner. We also noticed on the dinner menu eun dae goo jorim, an incredibly tasty braised black cod dish that we enjoyed with friends at a Korean restaurant in Lynnwood.
The meal started off well with very tasty banchan (☆☆☆), six of them in total. Exceptional were the potato salad with corn, cucumber and surimi; pajeon (pancakes with green onions); and kongnamul (bean sprouts with sesame oil). One in particular we’d never had, a square of what looked like a slightly yellowish soft tofu but combined with egg, yielding a custardy appetizer.
Usually preferring spicy dishes, I chose a beef and egg soup (yook gae jang). In the soup were shredded beef brisket, egg, green onions, bean sprouts, taro stems (torandae) and sweet potato noodles, all arriving at the table bubbling hot in an iron pot. It was so hot, in fact, I burned my tongue on the first sip. This was a delicious soup (☆☆☆½), at once spicy and savory, and substantial enough (especially when I mixed in my white rice) to satisfy an empty stomach.
My wife chose one of the soft tofu soups, Spicy Soft Tofu with Egg and Vegetables, dialed down in spiciness per her request. The broth was relatively clear and tasty. The soup was chockfull of tofu, three kinds of mushroom (enoki, white and oyster) and topped with a raw egg by the waitress at the table. Like my soup above, the soup came to the table bubbling hot, also in an iron vessel.
With the reinvention of Southgate, the Eastside Korean restaurant scene has dramatically turned for the better, a wonderful development for us because it is much closer to home than Seoul Hotpot. In fact, if other dishes turn out as well as those we had today, we might make it our go-to Korean restaurant.
Update 10-8-13: We returned here with friends to celebrate a birthday. Here’s what we ordered: japchae, seafood pajeon and braised block cod (eun dae goo jorim).
The yam noodles (japchae) were adequate (☆☆). The vegetables were cut rather large (cabbage, carrots, napa) and the flavors of sesame oil and soy sauce were faint. This was a surprisingly bland version compared to others we’ve had.
The seafood pancake (haemul pajeon), on the other hand, was praiseworthy (☆☆☆), generous amounts of squid, octopus and green onions in a thick “omelet” made of egg and rice and wheat flours. The pancake was accompanied by a dipping sauce (soy sauce, garlic, green onions, rice vinegar and sesame oil).
The best dish was the braised cod (☆☆☆½), served bubbling hot in a stone casserole. Several pieces of sablefish steaks were combined with tofu, rice pasta and white radish, braised in a thick, briny gochujang broth, and topped with sliced green and red bell peppers, cooked egg strips and enoki mushrooms. Mildly spicy, it is one of those dishes that satisfies with its boldness and, to the newly initiated, surprising ingredients. The radish in particular, doing a good imitation of turnip, was soft and flavorful. At current market prices for black cod, it is also an expensive dish ($32.95), roughly the going price at any Korean restaurant that serves it.
Update 10-19-13: Three of us had lunch here. Besides the beef and egg soup (yook gae jang, see above), we also ordered the Bibimbop with Bulgogi in a Sizzling Stone Pot (bulgogi dolsot), a very good dish (☆☆☆½) with generous servings of namul (shiitake, bean sprouts, shredded carrots, zucchini), a fried egg (rather than a raw one) and shredded, toasted seaweed. And the bonus, of course, is the crusty layer of sesame oil-flavored toasted rice on the bottom of the bowl which can be scraped off and eaten. There was little fault to be found with this bibimbop.
Southgate Garden Restaurant
3703 150th Ave SE
Bellevue, WA 98006