Steaming hot dinner in a garden restaurant

I HAD my eye on this restaurant in a two-story building on the right side of the road just before the former labor department’s building in San Antonio for a long time but didn’t get the chance until last Saturday evening.

Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

It was almost 9 p.m. and I was on my way to cover an event but decided to stop by and check out what the place had to offer hungry diners.
If you’re not Korean and can’t read signs written in Korean, Sam Ho Garden Restaurant in San Antonio won’t hold any appeal to you, but a whole new world of culinary delight awaits anyone who enters its frosted glass door and windows.
A cheerful, homey atmosphere greeted me and my companion at  Sam Ho Garden Restaurant. The walls were filled with a variety of decorations: cloves of garlic, lamp posts, signs and pictures of food and posters. There was no particular theme and that added to the casual atmosphere.
A cheerful food staffer led us to one end of a long table and handed our menus. It took us quite a while to choose what to eat because most of the dishes were authentic Korean and the ones we were familiar with were not there.
There were grills on the table, typical of Korean restaurants, but we were not in the mood to cook anything.  I still had an appointment and didn’t want to show up  smelling of smoke and grilled cattle intestine.
I finally saw something familiar — the hot pot rice with vegetables, or bibimbap, and decided to check out how they would prepare it. My friend ordered chicken soup and rice. The food staffer took our orders and was back with six bowls of appetizers — six kinds in generous amounts. I was still arranging the bowls when the food staffer appeared again with the steaming bowl of chicken soup on top of a sizzling platter. My bibimbap was served a couple of minutes after.
Personally, I prefer an interval between serving the appetizers and the main dish. That way, we’ll have time to enjoy our appetizers before digging into our main orders. At Sam Ho, we only took tiny bits from the appetizers and left some of them untouched.
Not being into creamy food, I silently decided to dislike the chicken soup at first sight. It was a white creamy concoction with bits of onion leaves floating on top, but I took a tiny sip just the same, preparing a glass of tea to wash off the expected sweetish, sticky thing — but I was wrong. The soup was not sticky at all, it tasted good, and I went for another sip, and another. The chicken strips at the bottom of the bowl were tender and flavorful.
Sam Ho’s bibimbap was quite similar to what other Korean restaurants were serving, except for the sunny side up egg on which was sprinkled a generous amount of sesame seeds. The food staffer tried to convince me to pour hot and spicy sauce into my bibimbap, but I shook my head. She seemed to find it funny that anyone could not tolerate spicy flavors but she gave me Kikkoman sauce and waited until I gave the thumbs up sign before leaving.
All the tables were filled and everybody seemed to be having a good time, talking like they were eating at home. I enjoyed watching a family with two kids grilling meat at the next table. To enjoy grilled delights at Sam Ho Garden Restaurant, you can try the pork galbi and pork belly, beef tongue, bulgogi, beef entrails or cattle intestines which go with Korean cold noodle or Miso soup.
The main courses range from $7 to $10 including Korean cold noodle, galbi soup, beef or mixed pork soup, rice with raw fish on top, broiled squid, rice dumpling, steamed seasoned ribs and more.
Dig into the specialty dishes from $13 to $35 dishes such as Kimchi seasoned ribs, pork bone potato soup, cattle intestine soup, spicy cattle intestine soup, yellow fish soup, frozen fish soup, stir fried small octopus or roasted fish and bean paste pot stew.
You can also go for the Specials of the House: Korean sausage, seasoned seashell or broiled octopus with noodle, sashimi with mixed vegetable, beef sashimi with special sauce, grill leek pancake, beef tendon steamed vegetables, and spicy braised short ribs.
The tables at Sam Ho Garden Restaurant are good for families or large groups. The main dining hall is no place for intimate lunches or dinners but it’s where hearty meals are served and attentive food staffers keep checking at your tables to see if everything is okay.
Three VIP rooms offer privacy for small group conferences and meetings.
Sam Ho Garden Restaurant is open for lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Credit cards are accepted. For reservations or inquiries, call 234-3535.
First published at the Marianas Variety

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