Photo by Eric Goodwin / Assistant News Editor
Within a recently constructed strip mall on the far end of South Church Street sits Murfreesboro’s latest Korean eatery, Seoul Pepper. The second Korean place to open in 2017, the meek restaurant is small, clean and quiet.
There are only six Yelp reviews for this place, it doesn’t have its own Facebook page yet and I wanted desperately to try the food before the masses discovered it.
Small metal cups of water, poured from a carafe, sat on the table as I browsed the menu. The menu, while small — the top of it said this was a “temporary menu” — has enough choices for someone unacquainted with Korean food (like myself) to get lost in the foreign phrases.
Before eating at Seoul Pepper, I had no idea what dolsot was. The one item I did recognize was bulgogi, but having already tried bulgogi at Cup Pop, a Korean barbecue spot close to MTSU, I wanted to branch out a bit. So I chose dolsot. And being someone who finds pleasure in spiciness, I opted for Jeyuk Dolsot, a spicy stir-fry dish with vegetables and pork slices marinated in a red chili paste sauce called gochujang. The stir-fry is served over a bed of white rice.
Dolsot itself is not a food. It’s actually a soft gray stone bowl used to cook and serve the food, which the server brought to me still sizzling within minutes of placing my order. If I had known better, I would have mixed the rice into the stir-fry the moment it hit the table because the dolsot continues to cook the food while you eat it. Neglecting to stir the dish results in a hard, overcooked wafer of rice at the end of the meal.
The stirring serves another purpose: to let the flavors pervade the rice and coat them in gochujang. I wished they had ramped up the spice a little bit, but the sauce was a fine blend between spice, sweetness and a touch of tang. While the sauce was the primary flavor, it didn’t detract from the juicy and tender strips of pork or the stir-fried cucumbers and carrots. I ate my fill — the portions were generous although I finished my entire meal there.
In addition to the main course, the dishes are served with a set of four side items: kimchi, made from fermented cabbage; pickled cucumbers; bean sprouts and Korean fish cakes, made from processed fish and some sort of starchy compound.
There is something to say about the limited menu: Someone not feeling the rice bowls and stir-fry will be hard-pressed to find something else to eat. There is a selection of stews I’m itching to try, serving up the likes of spicy tofu and spicy beef. Still, the restaurant will be ill-fit for a picky eater.
I’ll admit I’m not well-versed in the world of Korean food. After all, I have had little local access to it until recently. But with sleek decor, reasonable prices for such high quality ingredients (my dish cost $13.95) and the friendliest service, I hope Murfreesboro keeps this restaurant around.
Seoul Pepper gets away with four out of five stars.
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