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Shin Chon Garden - Excellent Korean (with Barbecue) in Golden Triangle Shopping Center, Ellicott City


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Tables have collapsed under less food that Shin Chon Garden spreads out for its sliced meat barbeques.

The restaurant renovated last year to add grilling tables from wall to wall. Each table has a built-in grill with a vent sitting overhead like something from a science fiction movie. This is one of Howard County's best restaurants with a full menu of Korean food. But the grilling tables make it a mecca for people who want to feast on meat.

Go to Shin Chon with four people. Pick two orders of meat -- the basic sliced beef bulgogi, some sliced brisket, maybe the kalbi rib meat or the sliced pork. Supplement with something with a few vegetables like the rice and vegetable bowl called dolset bi bim bop.

You'll be shocked at the way that the food flows. First, you'll receive your appetizers like steamed dumplings or a thin omelet. While you're still looking at that, your waitress will clatter down panchan, a half-dozen little bowls of side dishes. Mostly, vegetables like kimchi, seaweed, or lightly-pickled items like cucumbers or radish. A tofu. Maybe potato salad. Maybe shredded meat or a tiny dried fish. Once, we had a salad made with octopus, but you can ask if anything looks too adventurous for you.

Then comes the meat. The waitress will light your grill and bring out a plate with your thin-sliced meat. She'll cover the grill with meat. Then one of you can take the tongs and turn the meat yourself. You don't need to be a top chef. The meat is cut so thin that you just watch it color from raw to cooked. Then, you start serving it out to everyone at your table. Take your time. Grill in three or more rounds so that everyone enjoys a leisurely pace.

You'll get other plates as well -- covered metal bowls of rice and small plates of lettuce leaves. With bulgogi and dolset bi bim bop, we got a bowl of miso soup and an omelet in a cast iron bowl. You want to sample both. Just use a spoon to scoop out omelet. It's extremely hot, but deliciously light. We also got about three different sauces -- one to put on the bulgogi, one to mix into the bi bim bop, and an oil/salt/pepper mixtures that I think was dipping sauce for the brisket.

The beauty of Shin Chon Garden is that you have a dozen flavors -- the panchan, the omelet, the main courses, the sauces. You pick and choose. For bulgogi, you make little wraps with lettuce, rice, meat and the spicy sauce. (Ask for rice noodle squares for an alternative to lettuce.) For the brisket, we dipped in the oil/salt and made more wraps. Alternate with tastes of panchan, which you can just pass around the table.

Shin Chon is one my best restaurants of Howard County because every feast has been delicious. Waitresses are happy to answer questions -- to match each sauce with the appropriate use. Panchan change and offer small new treats. It can also be a bargain. For four people last week, we ordered a steamed dumpling appetizer and three main dishes: two meats and dolset bi bim bop. You're eating a huge shot of vegetables so you leave satisfied, but not engorged.

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Shin Chon does terrific barbecue. I'm a huge fan of all their grilled meats, panchan, and the dolset bi bim bop.

But you can try the liquor too if you want to learn a little foreign culture. We got to eat with friends who know far more about Korean food, and they introduced us to makkoli.

Makkoli is a unfiltered rice wine. It's very smooth, almost creamy. It has the lower alcohol of beer. We thought the bottle from Koodsoondang brewery went great with the table of meat and panchan. It's a mild flavor and a slight carbonation, brighter than beer but not as much alcohol as a standard wine. Reaching completely inappropriately across cultures, we both thought the makkoli tasted like an alcoholic horchata. (We also liked the fruit wine called bokbunja ju.)

One note: Makkoli is normally served in small bowls. My friend and I split a bottle. We just sipped form the bowls. I'm sure you could drink it from a glass, but let the Shin Chon people know if you're happy to get the normal bowl.

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We visited Shin Chon the other night and it was superb.  Unusually not interested in anything spicy, Kay had a "Korean Chirashi" {Hwe Dup Bap} w/the rice served on the side.  Pretty darned good, a little garlicky in a very good way.  I had Thuk Mandoo Guk and the dumplings were as good as any I have had.  The broth was as good as any Korean broth I have had.  The Banchan were good and plentifully replaced.  The steamed egg was just OK.

All in all, better than anything I've been to in Annandale including Anangol {my favorite} and Kogiya {good and cheap for what you get}.  We will go back to try the BBQ soon.

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