|Yuk gae jung at Yet Nal House|
This Ellicott City restaurant is a casual Korean place tucked in the first-floor corner of a shopping center at Rte 40 and Pine Orchard. It doesn't have an English sign, and the front door -- down from Bippy's Pub -- opens onto a takeout area. But you walk through into a cozy dining room with a bar and a big selection of Korean dishes.
Friend of the blog like Min had turned us on to Yel Nal with suggestions of rice cakes and the brisket casserole. With the weather chilling, I convinced Mrs. HowChow that the season had arrived to try new soups to stay warm.
We got huge bowls of spicy beef soup (yuk gae jung) and seafood-tofu stew (soon doo boo), and we gorged ourselves surrounded by a crowd that ranged from families with small children to a table of young adults enjoying soju, beer, and a platter of seafood and noodles to some older couples who lingered over a table of dishes that looked amazing.
Our dishes seem like fine introductions if you like some heat. The soon doo boo has a low, warm spiciness. It isn't aggressive. The base soup has a rich seafood flavor. Not fishy, but more brine with clams and shrimp. The smooth tofu pieces work like noodles in chicken soup, and Mrs. HowChow added spoonfuls of white rice that soaked up the flavors and left her with a take-home bowl as full as her original stew.
My yuk gae jung was spicier. You get shredded meat in the red-pepper and beef broth, along with scallions and what I thought were dried fernbrake. It's earthy and delicious. Perfect for a chilly night. We really didn't need the boiled dumplings that we had ordered because Yel Nal puts out the small plates of panchan on every table -- some kimchi, some noodles called chapchae, fish cakes, a seaweed with spicy sauce. . . . We had more than two lunches in plastic containers when we walked out.
I can't suggest Yel Nal enough if you have already tried Shin Chon Garden and a few nights of the "Korean 101" menu that I wrote about. People waiting for a table seemed initially surprised to see non-Korean-speakers come through the door. But they -- and then everyone in the restaurant -- were friendly. The menu has English descriptions, or you could look for suggestions on Yelp and just repeat the Korean names.
A few years ago, I ran two posts that were a "Tour of Rte 40," and, since then, we have nosed around other Korean spots in Ellicott City looking to see what we find. Yet Nal and Lighthouse Tofu are the two that most called me back with a welcome feel and delicious food. Lighthouse specializes in soon doo boo, and both places offer a bit of theater with the dish. You get white rice in a really hot bowl, and you're supposed to scoop out most of the rice, but leave a thin crust. That cooks for 10-15 minutes, then you pour in a few inches of water. By the time you're done eating, you have a palate-cleansing, stomach-settling tea.
Next time, I'm going to try the rice cake soup at Yel Nal. I need to see a baseline because I'm hoping to cook this for the Korean New Year in the winter. I also need to figure out the brisket casserole and the LA short ribs. I'm up for any suggestions. I have heard that Yet Nal has a good reputation with Korean diners, so I'd love to know what people enjoy.
For a smile, check out the Web site for Bippy's Pub, the bar a few doors down from Yel Nal House.
Years ago, Yel Nal House was a very different business. I stopped there in 2008, when it was basically a takeout shop with kimbop, kimchi, soups and other dishes. Since then, the space has been completely renovated, and the restaurant is warm and casual. But there are still takeout coolers, and I bet you'd do well with the soups, kimchi, or other items.