Sam Won Garden Korean BBQ has been a staple when it comes to Korean in Jax. Like many good Asian spots, it’s tucked into an unassuming strip mall with lots of neon lights. Walk in and choose between a regular or DIY Korean BBQ table (for at least two people).
You know you’re a legit Korean restaurant when you’re greeted by banchan when you sit down to dinner. Translating to “side dishes,” these small bowls of pickled veggies and other items are a Korean staple. Banchan can feature anything from kimchee (also spelled ‘kimchi’) to pickled cucumber, fish cakes, roasted potatoes, pickled bean sprouts and more. Word from the wise: You gotta try them all.
Koreans don’t play when it comes to the temperature of food. Items come out piping hot and fresh, usually on a plate or bowl that will burn you if you touch it. Dangerous, tasty, exhilarating. Be ready; the kitchen will set your taste buds alight.
We branched out and tried Kimchee Jjigae ($11.99), a Korean version of stew. Served in one of those previously mentioned piping hot bowls, this rich umami broth featured powerful kimchee notes, melt-away tofu and slender pieces of tender pork. As the name suggests, it’s rife with kimchee-this is not a dish for most beginners. Kimchee lovers will dig into this bowl with gusto, delight in each bite’s offer of a different taste than the last. The flavorful broth marinates the pork and pairs well with the fishier notes of kimchee. It’s not spicy per say, but it will definitely clear out your head.
You cannot skip the Korean BBQ. Instead of the more typical bulgogi, we opted for galbi, thinly sliced bone in beef ribs with onions. I couldn’t tell if the perfect glaze and caramelization resulted from the way they were cooked or the brown sugar marinade, so I’m going to go with both because they were pretty perfect.
We did start with the Haemul Pajeon appetizer (aka the seafood pancake) and the Korean Wine Sampler, but I left them for last because they were a bit of a disappointment. The large and in charge pancake was filled with squid, shrimp and green onion but after trying to get down a rubber hard bite of squid, I gave up and put my chopsticks down. The pancake part was decent, if doughy, but worked well enough once doused in the soy sauce served with it. The Korean wine sampler is something I’d never seen before. Three small glasses zoom out to you and they are super interesting, but I can’t say that I enjoyed any of them. Of the three, one was medicinal, one was super sweet and the last was more palatable but not particularly good.
Otherwise, this is a great place to try new things and explore an unfamiliar cuisine. So dig in!