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A taste of Korea

Sami brings spicy, flavor-packed dishes to Vinohrady


Posted: March 5, 2009

By Wency Leung - Staff Writer | Comments (0) | Post comment

A taste of Korea

Vladimir Weiss

Not much to look at. The atmosphere's chilly, but the bulgogi cranks up the heat.

Sami Grill opened at the former Tiger Tiger location off náměstí Míru late last fall without fanfare, and, during an initial visit, its stark, empty dining room carried the faint whiff of desperation of a doomed restaurant.

But, lo and behold, four months after opening, Sami was bustling on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon.

The characterless décor and chilly atmosphere aren't likely to woo customers to this low-profile Korean joint. Rather, Sami's reasonably authentic and fairly priced dishes make coming here worthwhile. Not everything that comes out of its kitchen is a winner, but the hits outweigh the misses.

My dining companion, a foodie who lived for seven years in Korea, was impressed with the gimbap, Korea's answer to Japanese maki sushi rolls. Unlike maki, the rice in gimbap is meant to be slightly greasy, flavored with sesame oil, and the center is typically filled with vegetables, cooked meats and even cheese instead of raw fish. Soy sauce and wasabi, essential accompaniments to maki, are not usually served with gimbap.

Sami Grill
Anny Letenské 5
Prague 2-Vinohrady
Tel. 222 524 666
Open 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 5-10:30 p.m.

Food **
Service ***
Atmosphere *
Overall **

FROM THE MENU

Jjambbong ramyeon
170 Kč
Sami gimbap 130 Kč
Bulgogi 280 Kč
Kalbi Tang 240 Kč
Bibimpap 240 Kč
Ginseng tea
50 Kč

The Sami gimbap was right on the mark, filled with finely chopped raw carrots, red cabbage, pickled radish and ham. The rolls held together well, and were beautifully seasoned with sesame oil and a drizzling of a thick, sweet soy-based sauce.

An order of bulgogi, or marinated barbecue beef, was simply delicious. The beef is cooked at the table on a built-in burner, set inside the tabletop. Usually, the cooking apparatus is a grill, but in this case, our bulgogi was cooked in a wok. As a result, the mixture of beef, onions, mushrooms and leeks was stir-fried instead of barbecued, as they should be, and the marinade and juices pooled at the bottom of the wok.

Unorthodox preparation aside, the flavor of this dish packed a wallop, hitting all taste buds with the sweet and salty marinade, the edge from the onions and the accompanying spicy red-pepper sauce.

Four small dishes of excellent, almost effervescent kimchee, spicy pickled radish, seaweed and potato tossed in soy sauce and sugar were served on the side, further dazzling the senses.

Much more subtle was the kalbi tang, a clear, fragrant broth made by slowly simmering beef bones. The soup is best when oxtail is used, as it gives up a more intense flavor the longer it's stewed. (The oxtail version is called gori gomtang.)

At Sami, the kalbi tang was made with beef ribs, with meat that fell off the bone. In the soup were glass noodles and dropped egg. The broth could have used more pepper to give it another dimension, but it was tasty, winning my companion's approval.

Sadly, Sami's bibimpap, perhaps the most well-known of Korean comfort foods, was rather dull. Bibimpap is served as a bowl of rice with shredded vegetables and beef, topped with a fried egg. It is left up to the diner to break the egg yolk and mix everything together with spicy red-pepper sauce, creating a sticky, messy yet lovely concoction.

The spiciness and slightly gooey consistency is what gives bibimpap its comforting quality. But Sami's version was amiss. It was served with not enough red-pepper sauce, and, although it was nice to see a generous quantity of beef, the overall mixture lacked moisture. Also, quite unusual for this dish, it was served with a pile of shredded lettuce that just didn't seem to belong.

On a separate visit, the jjambbong ramyeon was utterly disappointing. The noodles in this spicy noodle soup were overcooked, and the seafood submerged in the broth was of dubious quality and freshness. The tiny shrimp had the moisture boiled right out of them, and the clams looked like they came straight out of a can.

The service, at least, was consistently good. The little calling button at each table was unnecessary, as our waitress was friendly and attentive, even when the restaurant was busy.

Despite the duds, there are some satisfying, authentic Korean dishes here that are definitely worth coming back for. Let's hope Sami is here to stay.


Wency Leung can be reached at
wleung@praguepost.com


Tags: restaurant review, Wency Leung, Sami Grill, Tiger Tiger, Korean.


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