Nestled in the corner of UCI’s primary hangout hotspot, Diamond Jamboree, Urban Seoul, which opened on March 1, is an Asian-fusion-inspired restaurant. The food-truck-like eatery refers to itself as a Borderless Kitchen, meaning executive chef, Kacy Jun, actively seeks to merge the cuisine of various cultures into one tantalizing fusion.
What struck me about Urban Seoul was the food-truck-like atmosphere — barstools lined the bar end of the restaurant while one long bench and small metal tables were pushed against the wall. Upbeat music from artists like Phoenix and The Killers waere playing in the background, dimly heard among the calls of the kitchen, the chatter of customers and the ESPN zone playing on the television mounted to the wall. The opposite wall featured a triptych: three paintings placed side by side and commissioned by the manager’s brother-in-law, Tony Kim, who designed the canvas paintings to form an abstract “eye, heart and ear of the urban city.”
Urban Seoul completes their food-truck-like atmosphere by serving their entrées in paper trays with wax paper, plastic knives and forks. My friend and I opted to select two out of the fifteen entrees available and split them between us.
We chose the $7.50 spicy rice cake and the $7.95 chorizo kimchi fried rice. The rice cake entrée included crispy rice cake, fish cake, onions, a boiled quail egg, spicy sauce and green onions. While the appearance of the fish cake was similar to the texture of a white cheeto, I was pleasantly surprised by the contrast of the slightly fried batter and the gooey softness of the rice cake center.
The chorizo kimchi fried rice was hands down my favorite. A mix of chorizo, pork belly, pickled red onions, kimchi, garlic, rice and a sunny side up egg, this dish was the most flavorful fried rice I’ve ever tried. The chorizo, a Spanish signature item, was the perfect complement to the spicy rice. Although I was doubtful whether there would be enough food for my friend and me since the portions were small, I have never been more excited to be wrong. We both had enough to eat and even took home leftovers.
The inspiration for the Asian fusion restaurant idea came about “from our owner … who is Korean but wanted to bring other cultures into the food pairings. The fusion is mainly between Korean, Latino and American food,” Urban Seoul manager, Harrison Meritt, said. “We have our urban side and our Seoul side.”
In terms of the most popular items, Meritt said that many customers are a fan of the pork belly tacos and short rib arepas — however, he says that his own personal favorite is the kalbi burgers and kimchi quesadillas because they are the “perfect portion size … the kalbi burgers are more like two sliders and the way it’s marinated with thousand island dressing just hits the spot … I grew up in Texas, so I’m a big fan of TexMex food and the kalbi burger is perfect for me.”
When asked what makes this place different from other fusion restaurants, Meritt immediately said, “the personal connection we have with the customers … and the quality of the food. Everything is fresh, not frozen. When people think of food trucks, they think of instant gratification. You walk up, order, and leave with your food. In order to build that customer connection, we provide an open kitchen and the chef is in full view preparing your food.”
Meritt was eager to explain that Urban Seoul is aimed at a “hipster, younger 18 to 25-year-old demographic, urban easy feel” and are willing to cater to a UCI student.
“We’re going to start experimenting with tamales Tuesdays instead of taco Tuesdays and doing a special promotion Monday through Wednesday for UCI students.” As for the play on words of “Seoul” and “soul,” Meritt says that the owner wanted to bring the Korean comfort food he grew up with to his customers — the idea of providing soul food was a moment that he quickly took hold of. So take heart, it looks like our comfort needs are already being met.