Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Shin Chon Garden: Korean in Ellicott City

(UPDATE 7/29/2008: Shin Chon has renovated and reopened.) 

When I have to wait in line, I figure that a place serves good food, and the trick is learning what part of the menu draws everyone inside.

At Shin Chon Garden, I stood outside in the cold on my first visit. Families spilled out of the front door, and we had to work our way into even the entryway. Since then, I have never waited more than a few minutes for a table, but I still feel fortunate when I get inside and get my seat. It's an energetic place. Full of people, most who appear Korean. Outfitted with utilitarian tables and some basic decorations that split Shin Chon into a few separate spaces. Overseen by televisions playing what looks like Korean cable news. (The morning news from Seoul sometimes plays over dinner in Ellicott City.)

If you can, go with someone who knows Korean food. Most tables are laden by family-style feasts where people are grilling meat, spooning out stews and otherwise enjoying themselves on food that I'm sure they could explain to you.

If you can't, go anyway because you can enjoy yourself from the start.
First, enjoy the banchan. They're 5-7 small dishes with room-temperature food. Free appetizers. Everyone shares them, and they'll include a kimchi, some marinated vegetables, tofu, a potato salad, and maybe tiny fish. Ask the waitress what they are. Sometimes, they're unsure of the English word, but you'll get the gist. Try them all. The banchan alone are a reason to try Korean food -- a half dozen flavors that make everything else sparkle. (And read about them at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banchan)

Second, start with the basic dishes. My suggestions: bulgogi (sliced, marinated BBQ beef), dolset bi bum bop (rice and vegetables, topped with an egg and served in a hot stone bowl), and chap chae (glass noodles with vegetables). Eat the bulgogi in little rolls -- wrapped in lettuce and topped with a spicy sauce that they're serve you. Stir the dolset bi bum bop with the different sauce and let it sit a few minutes. The rice crisps against the hot stone, and it's delicious to pull that up. For a real BBQ experience, you could add kalbi (rib meat) to the bulgogi. From there, you can leap into the rest of the menu.

Shin Chon doesn't rise to the level of the best Korean restaurants in Annandale, but the food is still worth waiting to get inside.

If you like Korean, try Mirocjo farther west on Rte 40 or create your own take-out dinner from the panchan and meats at Lotte supermarket in the same shopping center.  If you visit Shin Chon, check out La Boulangarie Bakery across the parking lot in the Lotte shopping center.

Shin Chon Restaurant
8801 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: The far end of the Lotte shopping center on Rte 40 just east of Rte 29.

HocoLoco Girl on Shin Chon Garden - a listing and comments

Shin Chon Garden on Urbanspoon

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