PSA: ATTENTION SEOUL FOOD SEEKERS – more play on words here – look no further! I jumped at the chance for this opportunity and hopped on the Red Line to NoMa (which stands for the area north of Mass Ave) Thursday evening to satisfy my never-ending craving for quality, over-abundantly flavorful Korean food.
What may come as a surprise to many – I am Korean American. Therefore, my bias towards this underrated cuisine and my harsh criticism is due to 25 years of eating my mothers’ food.
So, naturally, my sense was to check this place out and see first-hand how owner/founder Eric Shin came up with the idea to incorporate Korean cuisine with the ever-expanding and notoriously popular “fast-casual” restaurant culture.
Let me get to the point: this place was like a combination of Chipotle, Cava, and ShopHouse – along with all the other uniquely defined restaurants that have been rising up with the trend to feed you, as quickly as possible, with the ingredients ready to be selected in front of you. The notion of this “fast-casual” dining atmosphere has been a cultural revolution to the restaurant industry, and millennials are eating this shit up.
I had the opportunity to speak with Shin about his background and influence, and how he eventually came to the decision to open up his own food dojo.
Shin’s influence into the restaurant and food industry came, naturally, from his mom. Having opened her own restaurant on Buford Highway in Atlanta, the area evolved over the years into a larger ethnic community, popularizing the now-bustling food scene strip.
When asking Shin about his decision to open up Seoulspice, he smiled, and without hesitation began to explain what Korean food meant to him – and eerily, yet comfortably, felt as if he were describing my feelings about what Korean food means to me. To Shin, Seoulspice was created to present Korean cuisine in a traditional, yet modern setting, opening up and forming a concept that was unfamiliar to many. This concept of “fast-casual” dining may not be new, but relatively new inside D.C. lines, and unfamiliar to many when pairing the idea with Korean dining. Shin’s mission was to provide the D.C.-“A”-type personalities with the highest-quality meats and fresh farm ingredients (Seoulspice’s motto is ‘farm to table in 7 days’).
Having a full-time gig in the National Symphony Orchestra as a percussionist, Seoulspice is Shin’s passion, but is definitely not on the back-burner. Shin’s excitement and growth potential for Seoulspice have already become a reality for him.
Eric Shin, bringing his mother around the restaurant introducing her to familiar faces.
I couldn’t help but notice how long the line was getting as I was wrapping up my questions with Eric, so I politely told him I needed to eat his food before I pass out.
The rule of thumb is this: follow the instructions from the menu. It literally provides you with what to do at each step. If you’ve ever stepped foot in a Chipotle, maybe a ShopHouse, considering I don’t look at the Chipotle menu anymore (who does?) – you’ll be just fine.
I went and waited in line confident that I would try their signature “Klassic” bowl – which infuses traditional Korean flavors of bulgogi (marinated beef), Korean hot sauce (or in my world known as gochujjang – though Seoul Spice’s was not as spicy), all piled in a spectacular array of colors, atop your choice of white or purple rice. But the closer I got to the front of the line my indecisiveness erupted, and decided to go ham and think of how I would traditionally eat it at home. I blacked out and ordered everything, and out came this phenom of a bowl:
Started from the bottom: a mixture of white and purple rice, ½ pork, ½ tofu (the tofu being a tad mushy. I was expecting tofu squares, but nonetheless tasty), literally all of the veggie toppings, which included bean sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, Korean radish (or mu), and a heaping mound of kimchi.
REVIEW PAUSE: What is Kimchi you ask?
Korean fermented radish. Yes, fermented. No, it’s not gross. Westerners do it with cheese. Cheese is rotten. You can’t win this.
Kimchi has been a Korean side-dish and a staple in Korean cuisine and culture, and you break our hearts when you say you have not tried and/or do not like kimchi. But to each their own. I guess you can live with breaking our Seouls. (My play on words is so on point right now, can’t stop my puns.)
To top it off, friendly little garnishes awaits your bowl at the end of the line, with a selection of toppings such as crispy garlic, cilantro, scallions (which by the photo you can tell I had a lot of), and roasted sesame seeds. Oh an avocaodos. Do I have your attention?
There are some crazy innovative ways to eat at Seoulspice – another option is to choose mini-tacos – letting your mind roam free and adding whatever your heart desires. #dreambig
What’s in a taco? .33 1/3% pork, .33 1/3% chicken, and .33 1/3% beef. The other .01%? Let’s not hope for duck…
One option on the menu that’s a must-try according to owner Shin? The Korrito – AKA kimbap – AKAKA the Korean Burrito. The name really speaks for itself, you guys. And by the intensity of the Seoulspice employees massaging and nurturing that beast of a burrito before it is wrapped and sealed in foil – the seaweed-wrapped gift from Korean Jesus will give you a food baby with absolute certainty. Want a good reason to stay in and bail on your friends? Eat a Korrito, and let the food baby take care of the rest. Shin says to try infusing Korean flavors with some Western ideas – say for instance their cilantro-lime ranch sauce (okay Eric Shin you crazy dude, but if it works for you I’ll respect it) – or to ease into the flavor fusion, creamy sriracha is a nice alternative sauce.
All in all – I was content. Happy. In good spirits. Impressed. Eric Shin provides a modern gateway into introducing Korean cuisine to the unknown; the noobs, as I would rather identify those who have yet to taste Korean food. It’s a mixing bowl of flavors – literally you should mix your bowl before taking a bite – one you can’t help but crave another bite after the first. Seoulspice is Korean comfort food at its’ finest, and though I can’t say it’s better than moms (seriously she’ll disown me) – it’s pretty damn close.
And with that, I leave you all with some salivating and information about Seoulspice, because I know for a fact you’re sharing this post to your friends wanting to come here tomorrow.
Seoulspice is located in NoMa, 145 N St. NE, Washington, DC 20002 – and is open from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily.
For more information, visit seoulspice.com.