Sam Whoa

The warning sign came in the form of a beige Melmac plate with a floral design nuzzling the edge. It was hard to look at the faded hamachi (yellowtail), smoked salmon, and red maguro (tuna) stitched with milky strands of something and arranged over the plate, because it seemed so odd to be served raw fish on something that looked more at home holding pork 'n' beans and smoky links.

No surprise then that this lackluster presentation coughed up sushi that was all warm and hard to swallow. The taco (octopus) was spongy and limp. The hamachi was fatty and fishy tasting. Instead of satiny and delicate, the tuna was mushy and sinuous. Smoked salmon was soggy, flaccid, and sewn with tough stringy edges.

Makes you wonder what kind of fish Sam Won is getting from the monger, maybe the throw-backs--or the throw-arounds. Be cautious here, unless you have a tequila-hardened stomach.

Sushi aside, there's really nothing in this Japanese-Korean hybrid that titillates the palate, or doesn't threaten the gullet. Even the décor is a little squalid. Along one wall, tables are made into little cubicles with dividers made of badly warped den paneling. The walls are dotted with framed fans and pictures. Each framed nicety was badly cockeyed, and a pair of them leaned into each other.

The three-ring bound menu is a verbose collection of Asian fare with cut-and-pasted color copier pictures of bento boxes that look like TV dinner trays dipped in purple touch-up paint. There's hibachi grill barbecue, broiled beef intestine casserole, broiled goat casserole with vegetables, and spicy octopus. The latter was a collection of arms that chewed like they had been clipped from a rubber toy. They even had good rubber memory, assuming their original state after each dental compression. It was hard to decide which would be more detrimental: spitting them out, or swallowing them whole.

Korean entrées mostly took the form of soups in a clay pot. Little melmac dishes of Korean vegetables are served as a prelude. Wedges of potently flavored radish root were spicy and succulent. Bean sprouts were supple, juicy, and crisp, but the kimchi was tepid.

Served in a clay pot, u-dong is a congested soup with seafood stock floating thick, rectangular strands of plain gummy noodles. Large slices of surimi, strips of tofu, and mushroom shavings were tangled among the gum tentacles. Then we discovered a stray element in the crowded slurry that seemed misplaced. Underneath a snarl of noodles was a shriveled battered shrimp, its cloak washed-out, gummy, and separating from the body, its shape somehow straightened out of its fetal coil. The meat was dismal: bleached, flaccid, void of briny sweetness.

Blandness and washed-out scraps of dry, gristly beef marred the dol sot bi bim bap, a beef soup disguised as a clay pot casserole. Filled with rice caramelized into a stiff crust along the sides of the pot, this dish featured little flavor and a barely identifiable assortment of overcooked vegetables.

The most provocative foray here, other than the beef intestine or the goat casseroles, was the spicy caviar soup. A clay pot held torn strips of cabbage, large squares of phlegm-hued tofu boiled into flaccid tatters, and slices of mushroom in a spicy, ocherous broth. Also floating in the puddle were mottled swellings of fish flesh, which were actually cod roe. These pieces of meat were dry and gritty, with virtually no flavor, save for a ghost of brininess. Actually, when considering the vividness of flavors served here, beige Melmac is a good serving choice. --Mark Stuertz

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