By Terry Markowitz
5:47 PM PDT, September 3, 2013
The Diamond Jamboree Center in Irvine is a marvelous collection of Asian eateries: Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese, ranging from large restaurants to small storefront places as well as a big Korean supermarket.
The center is always crowded and parking is always difficult, but there is a free multilevel structure in the rear.
Keeping up with the times, fusion cuisine can be found at Urban Seoul, a small, attractive, casual restaurant featuring a fabulous mix of Korean and Mexican. Manning the kitchen is chef Kacy Jun, who earned his chops at places like Sapphire Laguna and Wasa Sushi. He has created a wonderful and inventive menu that owes its origins to the early days of food trucks.
The small venue has a modern vibe with a black floor and gray walls, a zinc-topped dining bar lined with reused old wood and a row of tall steel-backed stools. There is one long table and several small ones as well. Contemporary, clear-glass light fixtures and colorful paintings complete the décor.
An attractive stack of large black clay storage pots serves as a wall to hide the back room. The only thing that breaks the mood are the two beverage cases along the wall.
The vibe here is definitely young, hip and totally casual. The staff is young as well and very helpful and attentive without being intrusive. Food is served on paper plates with plastic utensils, but the quality of the food we ate was first-rate.
I based our choices on recommendations from various reviewers and the Internet, since everything on the menu sounded interesting. We started with the chorizo kimchi fried rice, which was presented in a large plastic bowl. It had pickled red onions, garlic, a bit of kimchi, spicy chorizo sausage and pieces of pork belly and was topped with a sunny-side egg.
The idea is to toss everything together and dig in. We loved it. It was loaded with flavor and texture.
Japchae mari is a roll. Seaweed is wrapped around finely chopped rice noodles. The rolls are then battered lightly and fried. They are served with a sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce. The noodles were translucent and had a wonderful slippery texture, and they were perfect for absorbing the delicious sauce.
Pork belly tacos were filled with crispy, deep-fried pork belly and seasoned with kimchi, jang gochu aioli (jang gochu is hot pepper paste) and house hot sauce and then topped with dressed lettuce and queso fresco. There are three to a plate and they rank with some of the best tacos ever.
We were just blown away by one wonderful dish after another. The kimchi pancake quesadilla was made of three thin pancakes, reddish from kimchi and a bit spicy, stuffed with grilled chicken, green onions and cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. It was served with a side of kimchi sour cream for dipping, a delightful surprise. A must-have!
Chicken drumettes seem ubiquitous these days, and Urban Seoul serves some really good ones: crispy skin, moist flesh and that good sweet spicy sauce. A bit of pickled daikon came on the side.
As one would expect, dessert is not a big deal here, but ice cream bars are available and, in keeping with the fusion theme, made-to-order churros. As full as we were, we couldn't resist sharing one. After a short wait, a just-fried, crisp stick arrived, redolent of cinnamon sugar, the perfect bite to finish an exciting meal.
We couldn't try everything on the menu, but we wanted to. We will be back soon so that we can taste the short rib arepas, the chicken katsu sandwich, the spicy pork torta, the loaded fries and the chicken curry puffs, just to mention a few dishes.
Some of the best food in restaurants today comes from the inventive blending of two cuisines. Urban Seoul is the perfect example.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 2750 Alton Parkway, Diamond Jamboree Center, No. 131, Irvine
When: Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant open from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Dishes: $3 to $7.95
Desserts: $1 to $2
By the glass: $6
By the bottle: $3 to $4
Information: (949) 553-0188 or urban-seoul.com