Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Korean BBQ, where have you been all of my life?

Korean BBQ is something Ariel and I have been meaning to try for quite some time now, but for some reason or another had failed to indulge in this fun and flavorful cuisine. A JAM reunion right before the holidays gave us the perfect reason to head to Woo Lae Oak in Tysons Corner, VA.

Korean BBQ (Bulgogi Beef)

The Jang family started up a restaurant specializing in Bul-go-gi, or Korean Barbequed Beef, in 1945 during WWII when North and South Korea split. The Jang's left their home and relocated in the South. They called the restaurant Seo Lae Oak, meaning "House of the West". The Korean War caused the restaurant to be moved even further south of Seoul, until an armistice was reach and the government, as well as the restaurant returned to the capital. The Jang's renamed the restaurant Woo Lae Oak, meaning "House of Return". Woo Lae Oak has since expanded to various branches in Korea, Indonesia, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and Washington D.C., as well as the most recent opening in Tysons in 2006.

Tempura vegetables and calamari

The Tyson's location, right past Tyson's Corner Mall on Route 7, is a little hard to get to, with limited parking (although they do offer valet service), but is well worth the trouble. As you walk from the entrance into the dining area, a glass case of ancient Korean ceramics remind you of the country's history and beauty. The interior is sleek and sophisticated with decorative swirls of warm yellows and oranges on the walls. The booths are elevated slightly surrounding the rest of the tables in the floor space. All the tables come with a gas grill to cook the Korean BBQ right in front of you.

Gun Man Du (Korean dumplings)

Jenny, Ariel, our great friend Travis and I decided to share appetizers and the BBQ. We began the meal with fried calamari and tempura vegetables and Gun Man Du, flash fried dumplings filled with beef. The dumplings were gone in a flash. We all loved the carmelized, crispy and chewy wrapper and the pungent meaty, oniony flavors of the filling. The tempura was also delightful. The calamari and vegetables were fresh and the panko coating was light and crunchy. These apps were paired with two sauces, one soy sauce based and the other full of hot peppers. Yum!

Sides of pickled vegetables, kimchi, and seaweed salad.
After stuffing ourselves with dumpling goodness, we all ordered some hot tea to warm us up during what was a cold cold December night. Oddly enough the tea came in glass cups, but we weren't complaining. Shortly thereafter our Korean BBQ arrived: Dak (chicken breast), Dae Ji (spicy pork tenderloin) and Bul Go Gi (beef rib eye). All the meat came glistening red, dark pink and light pink. It really was a beautiful presentation. The meat came with a small assortment broccoli, mushrooms and carrots as well as a number of Korean side dishes. The famed fiery fermented cabbage called kimchi was a personal fave. I also enjoyed the various pickled vegetables and the fermented shrimp. The meat was cooked over the grill by our attetive waitress, and was the placed on our plates piping hot. The meat is meant to be eaten sort of like a burrito wrapped in lettuce leaves. A pinkish hued sauce slathered on the wrap was deliciously creamy, garlicky, and peppery. The caramelized flavors of the marinated meat was divine, although the spicy pork tenderloin lacked in spice. All the meat was tender and juicy, however I think the beef held up best to the spicy sauce and had the boldest, richest taste.
Sharing three meats among four was quite the challenge, but being the hearty eaters that we are, we managed to polish off the majority of the BBQ. Next time, however, we might opt for just two meat choices. Overall this was one of the most satisfying meals I have had in a long time, and I think everyone else agreed. I will definitely be back when my next carnivorous craving attacks! I can't forget that they have a number of vegetarian options and plentiful seafood dishes that looked mouth watering as well.

2.5 out of 3 JAMs

Woo Lae Oak
8240 Leesburg Pike
McLean, VA 22182


Ariel said...

Very elegantly written! This food does inspire poetry. :)

Gastronomer said...

Meat fests are AWESOME. I'm glad you guys had a fantastic K-BBQ experience.

Jenn said...

Mmmm this picture makes my mouth water!