If you've lived in Raleigh long enough to count yourself an old-timer, you may remember Seoul House on Capital Boulevard. An exotic oasis amid a desert of North Raleigh chain franchises, the area's first Korean restaurant thrived for 12 years before being closed to make way for a gas station in 1999.
That wasn't the last of the problems for owner-chef Ok-Joo Choi. After moving his restaurant to Cary (and changing its name to Korean Garden), Choi discovered too late that he wouldn't be permitted to use the grills built into his tables for the cuisine's signature kal bee (beef short rib) and bul go ki (petal-thin slices of rib-eye steak) barbecues, until he installed expensive vent hoods.
The resilient Choi overcame that handicap by preparing the barbecue in the kitchen until he was eventually able to install the hoods. In the meantime, the food - not just the barbecue, but a wide sampling of the Korean repertoire from bi bim bop to the fiery seafood soup jamp pong, continued to live up to Choi's strong reputation.
But the dining room never seemed to be as full as it had been in North Raleigh. The delay in getting the barbecue tables going probably hurt, and changing the name of a restaurant that had built a loyal following certainly didn't help.
Whatever the reason, the place was nearly empty when my wife and I stopped in for dinner on a recent Friday night. That's a shame, because the short ribs were as tasty - and as much fun to cook - as ever. And the accompanying rainbow assortment of kim chee and other condiment veggies were as bright and crunchy as I recall enjoying the first time I had them at Seoul House more than 20 years ago.
Granted, the ambience wasn't the cheeriest. But that's nothing a lot of people grilling rib-eye and beef ribs at those tables couldn't fix.