New Korean Restaurant on Exchange Street
Ok I tried it. This will be minimal because I wasn't taking notes or anything, I've only been there once, and they're still new.
LIttle Seoul has been open for a couple of weeks and the chef/owner/person who greeted us said they have been doing decent business. The room was spare but tidy, with little bits of kitschy Korean art hung on the wall here and there. There's a sushi bar in the middle of the room. Service was very pleasant.
The food was... mostly harmless. Tables are set with Korean-style metal chopsticks and spoons. Meals came with Japanese restaurant style salad and miso soup. The carrot-ginger dressing on the salad was very nice, the miso soup was unremarkable and could have been a little warmer. Took me a little practice to pick up the salad with the metal chopsticks, though I'm pretty proficient with other kinds. I got salad dressing everywhere. Oops.
We then got a seafood pancake -- it had shrimp and squid mostly, maybe some clam, scallions, zucchini and carrot slices. The pancake seemed smaller and thicker than I've had at other places, as if they didn't have a big enough pan. As a result, although the outside was crisp, the inside was underdone and sticky, and the pancake fell apart when we tried to pick up pieces of it to dip in the sauce. It tasted ok, but was a little disappointing. I'm no expert, but I think these should hold together.
Small side dishes were served in teensy portions: cabbage kimchi, white cabbage kimchi, fishcake with onions, cucumber kimchi. They were good. Companion got stone pot bibimbap, I got soon-dubu chigae with beef and clam. The waitress asked me if I was ok with food that was very hot, and I said yes. Both arrived appropriately sizzling/bubbling.
I didn't try the bibimbap but it looked ok. My chigae was full of nice soft tofu, scrambled egg, slices of some very large clam (giant clam from the sushi bar, maybe?), again with the carrot slices, and some small chunks of meat, which were pretty chewy. As I ate, it occurred to me that the waitress' question must have been about temperature, not spiciness. Though it had arrived with a lot of red pepper covering its surface, the chigae was not terribly spicy, and tasted strongly of chicken broth.
At the end of the meal we were offered cold, sweet ginger-cinnamon tea with pine nuts floating in it. It was nice and refreshing, but the waitress seemed to want to make sure we didn't think it was too weird.
It looks to me like this place is to Korean food what its next door neighbor (and co-bathroom owner), Tandoor, is to Indian food. They seem overly concerned with challenging people's palates. Maybe, two weeks in, they've had complaints about hotness, I don't know. Restaurants in a touristy area like Upper Exchange St. often have to cater to the least common denominator, so maybe that's what's happening here.
I haven't been back to Happy Teriyaki since the name change to Korea House (I am very much looking forward to doing so), but, if you are interested in the spicy, fishy, pickly, gingery, funky, garlicky, goodness that I think of when I think of Korean food, I would recommend you go there.
630 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101
88 Exchange St, Portland, ME 04101