From the bouncy K-pop (Korean pop music) to the plates and plates of side dishes called banchan, Seoul Garden's goal is to provide an authentic Korean barbecue experience. Restaurateur David Ahn has brought the skills he learned as a sushi chef, the showmanship he honed as a hibachi cook and his love of the cuisine of his native Korea together in the new restaurant, on Grande Boulevard at South Broadway Avenue.
"People have had to drive to Dallas or Fort Worth or Houston to get real Korean food," Ahn said.
All new restaurants try to find a niche, Ahn said, and he's seeking to show East Texas there are wide regional differences in Asian food.
The meals at Seoul Garden are served two ways. Many of the tables have built-in barbecue grills, and guests can cook their own meats and vegetables in the traditional manner.
"Sitting around the fire and grilling meat together is probably the oldest form of dining," he said.
Or guests can order from the "kitchen menu," which has a selection ranging from bulgogi (sliced ribeye steak, marinated and stir fried with traditional Korean sauce) to bibimbob (often spelled bibimbap), a mixture of meat, vegetables and rice, topped with an egg.
Dishes can be eaten ssam-style, as well. Ssam is a lettuce and perilla wrap, with rice, meat and other elements, topped with ssamjang, the traditional spicy Korean red sauce.
Krista Rother, Seoul Garden's front-of-house manager, said the spices aren't extreme.
"We did tone down the spices a little," she said. "It's not as hot as my mother makes. Because … boy."
Ms. Rother's mother is a chef at Seoul Garden. She knew Ahn through church, and when she learned he was opening an authentic Korean barbecue, she wanted to be part of it, Ms. Rother said.
"We all did," she said. "My brother wants to work here. We won't let him yet, because he's still in school and busy with activities, but that's how excited we are about the restaurant."
The authenticity is the key, she said.
"Even the music is important," she explained. "Last week a table full of girls was in, and a K-pop song came on, and it was apparently their favorite. Pretty soon they were all up dancing. That's what you see at a real Korean restaurant."
Collin Mears is Seoul Garden's sushi chef. He worked with Ahn at Shogun.
"I was at Juls for a while, but when David called me and said he was opening this, I came right over," he said. "It's very exciting. I like being a part of this."
The restaurant's prices are comparable to other Asian restaurants; his kitchen menu entrees range from $11.99 for kimchi to $19.99 for the bulgogi. Lunch prices range from $4.99 for seaweed salad to $7.99 for seafood pajun. The restaurant also offers take-away bento boxes for lunch on the go.
But take-out is really missing out on the experience.
"What makes it special is that David comes out - he'll grill with you, he'll teach you need to know and he'll explain all the dishes to you," Ms. Rother said. "That really personalizes the business. And that's what a Korean restaurant should be."
Seoul Garden is from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
It's closed on Sunday.