A tapas to fill Edmonton's void
Seorak, hidden away on Whyte Avenue, does Japanese-Korean cuisine – and does it very well
Japanese-Korean tapas aren't quite as contemporary as they were, say, five years ago, but Edmonton's landscape is still curiously devoid of these eateries (with the notable exception of Japonais Bistro downtown).
Seorak fills this void south of the river, making its home on Whyte Avenue. There are so many bright lights and ostentatious colours that compete for attention on Whyte that one would likely walk right past Seorak if one wasn't searching for it. Little beyond the restaurant's name and the silhouette of its namesake Korean mountain Seoraksan on a faceless storefront gives any indication that something lies beyond. Yet, a push through Seorak's door reveals a chasmal space that yawns like a cave decked out with I beam trusses and rows of booths that line the floor like stalagmites. Two chefs move in measured synchronicity in an open teppanyaki kitchen. The teppan griddle is the basis for the majority of Seorak's menu items.
Seorak divides its menu into tapas, sushi, snow bowls and booze. Of the latter, Seorak has a penchant for sweet things. The grapefruit tower ($10) truly tastes of ruby red grapefruit, nudged forward with Tanqueray and mint. The snowbomb ($18) is a generous bowl of fruity slush (one may choose from a few flavours – I enthusiastically recommend strawberry) topped with a tiny, upended bottle of vodka. It's lethal – and refreshing.
Some hard-to-find Korean standards make the cut, too. Bokbunja ($18) and seol joong mae ($18) are traditional black raspberry and plum wines, respectively, that are as heady and beguiling as a long summer evening.
Of note: Seorak serves oshizushi (pressed sushi), which is extremely difficult to find in Edmonton, and they do a fine job of it. Creamy avocado pairs perfectly with robust sockeye salmon in oshi sake ($14.50). Pressed into perfect, tiny rectangles, these morsels alone warrant a return visit to Seorak. Rice pops ($8.50) are deep-fried rice cakes the size and shape of fat rigatoni noodles. They are chewy, sweet and sticky with honey and garlic.
Korean barbecue short ribs ($12) must have just grazed the surface of the kitchen's sizzling teppan before arriving at the table, for each slice of beef balances a rare centre with exquisitely charred edges. Tako calamari ($8.50) – think calamari but with octopus instead of the requisite squid – are nicely tender, but the promised serrano and honey breading is difficult to discern.
Nonetheless, Osaka okonomiyaki ($17) is an absolute riot of ingredients. Imagine a pancake stuffed with seafood, pork belly, bean sprouts and cabbage, then finished with scallions, bonito flakes and roasted seaweed. It's quite possibly the hit of the evening.
Dessert features a half-dozen flavours of bingsu. This Korean shaved-ice dessert is beginning to make inroads into Western Canada and, unlike Hawaiian shaved ice, is traditionally sweetened with condensed milk and topped with red beans.
Seorak's bingsu ($11.75) is, hence, fairly traditional, but ups the fun factor with flavours like Oreo and strawberry cheesecake.
Yuzu almond is lightly sweet with wafts of citrus intermingling sinuously with nutty almond. Earthy, mealy red beans offset the delicate ice shavings that melt upon contact. It may very well be the first bingsu in Edmonton.
Seorak does what it does very well and, even though one is unlikely to stumble upon it by accident, finding Seorak is indeed the happiest of accidents.