Sherman's Food Adventures: Secret Garden

Secret Garden

I've seen many buffets within Greater Vancouver and also along my travels.  But I haven't seen many Korean buffets.  Now let me clarify, there are many AYCE Korean BBQs that I've encountered and one of them used to be in Surrey.  They even had self-service BBQ meats as well as banchan and other Korean dishes.  However, I do believe that the newly-opened Secret Garden (in the former Red Robin) at Lougheed is a rarity.  It is a classic station-style self-service buffet that offers up various Korean dishes (without at-your-table BBQ).  We recently checked out the place for a weekend dinner.

The renovations at the place has made everything brighter, but some remnants of the old Red Robin still exist.  The buffet stations have a wide range of dishes.  I loaded up a plate of smaller items to begin with like the Kimbap, California Roll, Tuna Mayo Inari, Soft Tofu and Banchan (jellyfish salad, eggplant, kimchi & squid).  Being a smaller kimbap without the tuna, it ate more like a mini-futomaki.  However, combined with the tuna mayo inari, it kinda had the same effect.  I enjoyed the jellyfish salad as it had a nice crunch and was well-seasoned.

Off to another section of the buffet where we found things like Japchae, Bossam, Fried Basa, Kimchi Pancake and Seafood Pancake.  Japchae was not bad as it was not clumpy and not overly greasy.  It wasn't too sweet either.  The bossam was tender and fatty.  I put a good amount of soybean paste on it.  Soft and fluffy as usual, the basa featured a crispy batter and was served with a sweet mayo.  I wasn't too fond of the pancakes as they were really flat and didn't have much in the way of ingredients.

What is a Korean buffet without Korean BBQ?  Well, they have that covered too with a selection of meats including Beef, Chicken, Pork and Salmon.  There was also spicy pork, but that was on another dish.  About the rest of the meats, they were all decent.  The chicken was nicely charred and tender while the pork was also charred but just a bit chewier.  Beef bulgogi was nicely marinated and sliced thin, hence being tender.  Surprisingly, the salmon wasn't that overdone.

In the middle section of the buffet, we found 2 large sections where one of them had some seafood.  We found Sweet Soy Potatoes, Beef Bulgogi Quesadilla, Steamed Prawns, BBQ Mussels, Tteokbokki, Vegetable Fritters and Fried Meat Dumplings.  I enjoyed the potatoes as they were tender with a slightly firm fried exterior.  Would've eaten more if they weren't "fillers".  There were 2 types of tteokbokki and I preferred the rose version.  Mild flavour with chewy, but soft rice cakes.  Shrimp were good, but I didn't want to spend so much time peeling them.

Right next to the previous station was a bunch of random things highlighted by the Korean Fried Chicken in regular and sweet & spicy.  These were decent but not as juicy as freshly fried KFC.  But ultimately, they were crispy and were seasoned.  The sweet & spicy was naturally more flavourful.  Would've liked to see soy garlic (which is my fav), but the 2 flavours did fine.

Also in that section, we found Vegetable Fried Rice, Kimchi Fried Rice, Green Bean Stir Fry, Braised Tofu and Korean Donkkaseu.  Didn't like the vegetable rice as it was bland and lacked caramelization.  Kimchi fried rice was better due to the spice.  Beans were crunchy while the tofu was texturally-appealing and flavourful.  Pork cutlet was a touch dry, but crispy.  There was sauce available on the side.

So this dish was a bit of everything from everywhere.  Here is the missing Spicy Pork BBQ with 2 more items from the same section as the KFC - Sweet & Sour Pork and Stir Fried Shanghainese Bak Choy.  Saucy, but tender and spicy, the pork was screaming for rice.  Maybe the vegetable fried rice would've worked here.  The sweet & sour pork was decent as the sauce was tangy.  Since it was already sauced, the pork was no longer crispy.  Bak choy was quite good, vibrant and still crunchy.

There was also a selection of soups and also a DIY Jajangmyeon.  Of the soups, the Pork Bone Soup was my favourite as it was slightly spice and plenty meaty.  The Beef Bone Soup was clean and pure with just the flavour of meatiness.  Soft Tofu Soup was a touch spicy, but lacking depth.  Squash Porridge resembled baby food.  Wasn't my thing.  The Jajangmyeon was decent with chewy noodles and a sweet and savoury black bean sauce with plenty of onions.

The selection of Desserts was a bit weak, but I give them kudos for hard ice cream and the really good chocolate chip and double chocolate cookies.  They were thick and crispy with lots of chocolate.  Also has the pain au chocolate and they seemed to be the Costco? variety.  No matter, I like those anyways.  Overall, the buffet was quite good with a wide selection of dishes.  Pricing is reasonable at $35.99 Adult Weekday Dinner and $39.99 Adult Weekend Dinner.

*All food was complimentary for this blog post*

The Good:
- Wide selection of Korean cuisine favourites
- Overall decent food
- Reasonable pricing

The Bad:
- As with any serve yourself buffets, some items are better than others


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