High spirits invade expansive Maison de Seoul
We were a horde and we set out to conquer Korea. These things start innocently enough. Friends come into town, they want to see an assortment of buddies and before you know it a simple expedition has morphed into a party of eight diners. What kind of restaurant best accommodates and entertains a hungry, riotous group?
We set our convivial sights on Maison de Seoul. With a couple of serious kimchi addicts in the group (ahem, including yours truly) it was the logical way to go. That and the multiple-user-friendly Korean barbecue. Although smack in the middle of Westmount, Maison de Seoul’s clientele was primarily Korean the night we went. The room could have been in any neighbourhood, plainly yet pleasantly done in peachy and royal blue tones. The best seats, the benches running along the window, were already taken by a family happily slurping on noodles.
We ordered a frenzy of familiar appetizers: tempura vegetables, dumplings, mung bean pancake. While the tempura was a bit limp, and the dumplings a little greasy, the pancake was a study in textural contrast: crisp on the outside, smooth, almost gooey, within. "Tastes like latkes!" said a pal new to the form, who also liked that we each got our own individual dipping sauce. "Like it’s uncooked, in a good way," said a pancake aficionado. There were two items on the menu in Korean script only: raw fish and beef tripe, we were told, and they’d run out of each. New to us were the fried tofu and the kampungki ("like General Tao chicken but with pork," the waitress explained). The former were pale, lightly crunchy and greasy on the exterior; the latter were as expected – a touch orangey, more tangy than sweet.
Small salads with a wasabiesque dressing arrived, later followed by a light miso and spinach soup. Then it was time to bring on the meat. The oh-so-proficient waitress first brought two portable grills to the table. Slices of ribs, slabs of marinated chicken, ribbons of tenderloin that would curl with the heat were placed on the grill and tended for us. Smear lettuce leaves with a peanuty, (not-so) hot sauce, wrap up the cooked morsels, and enjoy. The ribs (bone in) were easier handled on their own and had a good meaty taste. The tenderloin (bulgogi) was standard, but the chicken was standout: gingery and tender, never once dry. Some was on the bone, which gave the gnawers plenty to work at.
We’d been steered away from the noodles (too much like soup, we were told, and difficult to share), but another table’s sloppy, not soupy, dishes of noodles in black bean sauce made me wish I’d followed my gut instinct and ordered them anyway. We did try the dolsot: hot stone bowls with rice and accoutrements, mix in the egg, meat and veggies and let sit so the mixture crisps against the bowl’s side. The vegetarian one ("for health," the waitress said, clearly preferring the meaty version) was mildly nutty with sweet round dates, beans, ginseng and pine nuts.
And the homemade kimchi? Very good and medium spicy, a nice counterpoint to the other assorted pickles: cool salty potatoes and mild zuke spears. The other addict and I wrestled over the last scrap.
Maison de Seoul
5030 Sherbrooke St. W.; 489-3686
Dinner for two, not including tax or tip: $18-$30