Atmosphere: Eclectic, pleasant; Korean cuisine.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Friday; noon to midnight, Saturday; noon to 10:30 p.m., Sunday.
Price range: $4.95 to $9.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Carte Blanche, Diner's Club.
Special facilities: Parking in lot in front of restaurant; accessible to handicapped; highchairs and booster seats available.
Our daughters were not wild about the idea of eating in a Korean restaurant.
We reminded them that they liked Oriental food. No dice.
We reminded them that they liked bulgogi, a Korean barbecued beef dish. Not tonight, they wouldn't.
Our teen-aged guest said what she really liked was Vietnamese food. We finally said they could all eat egg rolls and soup for dinner if they wanted.
Beewon, the restaurant's Korean name, turned out to be a pleasant surprise that turned the groaners into enthusiasts. We left feeling that the Secret Garden should not be anybody's secret. It deserves a neighborhood reputation and a good business among diners other than its largely Oriental clientele.
Located in the Jefferson Village shopping center, the Secret Garden obviously has been through other incarnations. There is a windmill over the front door. The entrance is stone grotto and stained glass, the wallpaper a bamboo print, the chandeliers western American.
This mixed ambiance is not unpleasant. And despite the carpeting and the white cloths and candles on the tables, one can dress casually and not feel uncomfortable.
If you've never eaten Korean food, it is important to know two things when ordering. Unlike other Oriental restaurants, Korean restaurants serve meals individually rather than family style. If you want to share, ask for extra plates. Traditional Korean cooking can be incendiary, but any number of selections are delicious and suited to milder tastes.
At the Secret Garden, the Tang dishes, listed on the last page of the menu, represent typical Korean spiciness, but there is also an array of both subtle and more highly seasoned dishes, some familiar and some less so.
The first defector from the won ton and egg roll crowd was one of our 11-year-old daughters, who spotted her favorite: sweet and sour pork ($7.95). The other 11-year-old quickly zeroed in on shrimp tempura ($7.95). Their older sister decided to try marinated and broiled short ribs ($8.95). Her friend was all for sweet and sour pork. End of won ton and egg roll discussion.
My husband and I opted for bulgogi ($7.95) and pan-fried fish ($7.50), recommended by our waitress.
We rarely carry home doggie bags these days. Our growing daughters can consume a full-sized meal, so we didn't argue when they could not agree on an entree to share. However, servings are generous at the Secret Garden, and younger children would be more than satisfied splitting a dish. Entrees also are accompanied by rolls and butter, bowls of steamed rice and communal plates of cold vegetables.
While waiting for our main courses, we nibbled on a fiery kimchi, the cold marinated cabbage that is a traditional side dish for Korean meals. In addition, there were crunchy bean sprouts and perfectly cooked cold spinach, both flavorfully dressed with sesame oil and milder seasonings. Everybody, children included, loved the bean sprouts and spinach. The kimchi, we found, was not for the faint-hearted among us.
Then came the next pleasant surprise. The tempura platter consisted of seven large butterfly shrimp, delicately deep-fried and served on a bed of crisp shrimp noodles. The fish, also in a delicate batter, was perfectly cooked and served with an excellent sweet sauce for dipping.
Sweet and sour pork was flavorful, although Korean sweet and sour sauce is not as full-bodied as Chinese versions. Meat in the dish was plentiful and the vegetables crisp.
Bulgogi was delicious, although not grilled as crisp as I would have liked. The short ribs were best of all. Marinated in the chef's seasoned soy sauce, they were juicy, tender, and broiled to a fragrant turn.
There is no dessert listed on the Secret Garden's menu, so the final pleasant surprise of our evening came when the waitress appeared with a complimentary plate of small watermelon wedges to finish off our meal. It should be no secret that the Secret Garden offers genuine hospitality and simple good food in a quiet, pleasant setting.
The bill for the six of us was $62.24, including tax and tip.