Within minutes of entering Seoul 116, chances are you’ll spot at least one person sipping on a Soju Capri cocktail. Even from across the dining room, you can’t miss this adult version of the Capri Sun you enjoyed as a child.
The spirit base is soju, Korea’s answer to sake, and it comes in flavor variations ranging from Miss Korea (muddled cucumber, mint and lime) to Rich Lychee (lychee juice, raspberry and blueberry). It’s served in a clear plastic pouch with a straw à la Capri Sun, and in each one — here’s the part you can’t miss — is an LED “ice cube” glowing in a vivid neon hue.
They’re surprisingly tasty, and they’re fun to drink. They’re also a clear signal that Seoul 116 is not your typical Korean restaurant.
The menu is designed for small plate sharing, for one thing, and contemporary riffs on Korean cuisine — many of them as eye-catching as those Soju Capris — outnumber traditional dishes by a wide margin. Some are so inventive as to be barely recognizable as the dish that inspired them.
That doesn’t mean that they aren’t thoroughly enjoyable in their own right. Seoul 116’s rendition of a shrimp pancake is a freewheeling deconstruction of the classic Korean dish of that name, serving up tempura-battered jumbo shrimp and green onion atop a couple of miniature versions of the savory pancake. Fried purple potato threads, bright rings of pickled jalapeño, and a small dish of soy vinaigrette complete the colorful presentation.
An Asian-accented beef tartare is another fetching dish, featuring ruby ribbons of lean beef glistening in a glaze of soy and sesame, and garnished with a raw quail egg in its shell. It tastes as good as it looks, the beef surprisingly tender given the coarseness of the grind.
116 N. West St., Suite 100, Raleigh
Rating: 3 1/2 stars
Atmosphere: urban contemporary
Noise level: moderate
Service: welcoming and attentive
Recommended: beef tartare, wings, bulgogi sliders, dumpling soup, shrimp pancake, bibimbap
Open: Lunch and dinner daily.
Other: full bar; accommodates children; good vegetarian selection; patio; parking in small lot next to the restaurant, and in the deck across the street.