Monday, February 21, 2011

Lebanese Taverna - Pentagon City 2/16/2011

I was in the Pentagon City Mall Food Court, waiting for my friend and his cousins for dinner, when I looked over and noticed a Popeyes. I jokingly said we should probably just stay here for dinner. It was unfortunate that this joke would turn out to be a prescient recommendation considering my experience I would have at Lebanese Taverna.

The food was serviceable, although forgettable. The hummus solid actually. But the waitress was huffy. She dripped sauce on me when clearing the flatware (and held the dirty knives and forks right next to my face), and got in a tiff about packing someone's leftovers in a container. I could have gotten better service in an Applebee's. Pretty much killed the experience. Strange how terrible service tends to do that.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Zenebech Injera - Shaw 2/12/2011

Zenebech Injera
608 T St NW
Washington, DC 20001

Zenebech Injera is located in a small storefront in a once crumbling corner of Shaw, just steps away from the abandoned Howard Theatre. But much like that Beaux-Arts monument, currently undergoing a $28 million renovation, the neighborhood seems to be slowly turning a corner and appears to be much safer and economically vibrant than from what I remember it being three years ago when I first patronized this restaurant.

This restaurant is primarily a carryout that caters largely to cab drivers and local neighborhood residents. But, because the secret has long since been out on this place, you do see the occasional sit-in diner who probably has come farther afield to eat what has been described by several publications and bloggers as the best Ethiopian in the District. Especially considering the lack of benches in the immediate vicinity, and, while improving, the area is still fairly raffish, unless you drove, I would suggest you eat inside.

The interior is spare, though a vast improvement over what it once was before it went through a very time consuming and (I'm sure) financially painful renovation several years ago. Before the renovation, the store was essentially a bodega with card tables and rickety chairs. Now, while the interior design still won't win any awards from Food and Wine or Washingtonian, there is far more seating available and it is not an unpleasant place to stay and eat.

You still order at the counter, though, if you choose to eat in, they will serve your meal on a silver platter covered in injera, just like in other Ethiopian restaurants, rather than dump it in a styrofoam container as they used to. All the entrees here are under $10 and can easily feed two people. So, whether this place is the best Ethiopian in the District is certainly debatable (though, in my opinion, a defensible point of view), it has to rank as one of the best dining bargains in the District. Since I was eating by myself, I decided to order the kitfo, a spiced beef tartare dish, which is a dish I very rarely get to eat because of my regular dining companions tend to veto this particular order.

My kitfo was served on a piece of injera, with two folded pieces of injera, a pile of mitmita (a chili powder made out of African birdseye chili peppers), and some Ethiopian cottage cheese, next to it. The injera, as always, was on point: soft, yet chewy with a nice sourdoughish tang that wasn't overwhelming. The kitfo, rather than being extruded through a grinder, looked like it was whipped, imparting a lovely creamy texture delicately accented with spice. It was delicious on its own or with a little injera, but better when dipped in the fiery mitmita. The cottage cheese, while bland on its own, was a nice accompaniment that cooled and refreshed the palate in preparation for the next spicy bite of mitmita covered kitfo.

Some advice: the clerk at the counter asked me how I wanted my kitfo to be prepared. Get it raw or don't get it at all. When I told the person I wanted it raw, and I made sure he understood I meant not rare, not blue, but totally unsullied by even the faintest flicker of a stovetop's warmth, the look of relief that beamed on his face was almost heartwarming. And he's absolutely right, because otherwise you are getting Hamburger Helper...and do we really need more Hamburger Helper in this world?

Although I didn't have anything else this trip, I have had their vegetable combos and some of their wats. I find their vegetable dishes to be some of the best I have had in the District, and at less than $10 for an entree that easily feeds two, you are looking at one of the best deals in DC. I find their meat based wats to be not as successful (they can be stringy and greasy), but haven't had enough to make a conclusive judgment. But, the vegetables dishes and the kitfo alone merit repeat visits for this place.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Full Kee - Gallery Place 2/9/2011

Full Kee
509 H St NW
Washington, DC 20001

Located in the neighborhood formerly known as Chinatown, Full Kee is a holdover from the pre-Verizon/MCI/soulless telecom conglomerate Center era. While the restaurant is not as whimsically named like its neighbors, such as Wok n' Roll and New Big Wong, it is one of the few remaining Chinese restaurants in the area that still attempts to prepare a semblance of non-Americanized Chinese food.

While it has several species of roasted fowl hanging in the window, it isn't really a "hole in the wall" Chinese restaurant. It has several rooms and is actually fairly spacious inside. Since I was with a relatively large group and we were seated at a table with a lazy susan, one of those circular trays which allow you to spin different platters of food around the table, we decided to share our entrees family style.

The menu is fairly Cantonese, although there are many Americanized dishes intermingled in the selection, so you have to know what to order. For appetizers, I ordered crab rangoon with duck sauce, an Americanized dish, while others ordered steamed dumplings and a corn soup. The crab rangoon was as expected: a delectable fried wonton stuffed with cream cheese and very little imitation crab, just as I like it. The duck sauce however was obnoxiously cloying even for duck sauce. I didn't get to try the steamed dumplings, but people at the table seemed to enjoy them. I also tried the corn soup, which was basically egg drop soup with some kernels of corn tossed was extremely bland and forgettable.

We also ordered several dishes for entrees. I ordered the eggplant "casserole" with minced chicken and salt fish, which I thought was well prepared. The eggplant was steaming hot and the protein acted as accompaniments rather than the main players. Nonetheless, I thought it was well-seasoned and harmonious and would order it again. Someone else ordered a white fish dish with peppers and onion which was also quite tasty. The sauteed snow pea leaves were serviceable, if a little bland and undistinguished. It could have used a little garlic.

The peking duck was also well done. The skin was crispy and the meat moist, and when wrapped in the pancakes, worked beautifully with the earthy, tangy hoisin and the brightness of the green onions.

The Americanized dishes were a bit more mixed. The barbecue pork dish was nauseatingly cloying. The sauce tasted like corn syrup and tomato paste, though the pork was pleasantly crispy, I suppose. The shrimp with walnut in mayonnaise was far more successful, and really good. It did a better job balancing the sweetness with the savory and was probably one of my favorite dishes of the day.

All in all, if you want authentic Chinese food, you are better off trying to find something in either Fairfax or Rockville. Those restaurants are far more consistent and inexpensive (though they tend to be either Taiwanese or Sichuan, and not Cantonese). But, if you are in Gallery Place and you want to try some Chinese food, Full Kee isn't the worst option. At least it hasn't transmogrified itself into a Panda Express.

Iconic Americanized Dishes

I felt like writing an interactive blog post today. I was thinking about "Americanized" ethnic cuisine and I was wondering what people thought were the most egregious (or wonderful, depending upon your point of view) examples of Americanized dishes. Here's my list:

Chinese: General Tso's Chicken; Egg Foo Young

Indian: Chicken Tikka Masala

Thai: Pad Thai

Japanese: Philadelphia Roll (or any sushi with salmon); Chicken Teriyaki (or anything involving a mushroom being flipped into a chef tote)

Korean: "Chicken" Bulgogi (and most Korean BBQ)

Italian: Spaghetti and Meatballs, Pepperoni

I have noticed that there are two types of "Americanized" dishes. There are watered down versions of authentic ethnic dishes (i.e., Korean BBQ, Pad Thai) and then there are dishes that were wholly invented in the U.S. (i.e., General Tso's Chicken, the Philadelphia Roll, Spaghetti and Meatballs). Personally, I prefer the latter: it's strives for its own authenticity in a way, unlike the watered down versions of ethnic dishes, which tries to have it both ways (appealing to American palates yet clinging to pretensions of authenticity) while ending up just being a poorly conceived and usually badly prepared dish.

Anyway, does anyone else have any nominees for iconic Americanized dishes?

ChiDogOs - U Street Corridor 2/6/2011

1934 C 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009

ChiDogOs opened several months ago near the intersection of U Street and 14th in what was once a fried seafood carryout. Bookended by a McDonalds and a KFC/Taco Bell, it is perhaps seeking to provide a modestly heart-healthier, but still amply cholesterol clogging, alternative to these establishments by slinging Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian Beef sandwiches to the hordes of late night U Street barflies too drunk to realize they are spending $10 on two hot dogs.

The interior attempts to be edgy and hip with pockmarked metallic paneling on the tables and a little exposed brick wall near the condiments. Unfortunately, the interior is very sterile and cold, something I imagine a prison canteen would feel like (if it accepted cartons of cigarettes, sexual favors, or American Express as legal tender, then this place could double as an exhibit at the Crime and Punishment museum). It didn't help that the tables weren't wiped down with regularity and that I was sitting next to one with a puddle of drying soda on it.

I ordered two Chicago styled hot dogs that were "run through the garden." This means that on top of your Vienna Beef dogs, you get slices of tomato, a pickle spear, some relish, mustard, celery salt, and sport peppers. And, to be fair, they were pretty decent: the tomatoes obviously came from a Peruvian greenhouse and the relish didn't have the artificially radioactive green intensity I come to expect from a Chicago dog, but all in all, it wasn't bad. Of course, I am a fan of Vienna Beef, which is a 100% beef frankfurter stuffed in natural casings, and ChiDogOs did not do anything particularly special with them...they were either simply boiled or steamed. But, at least, they have the wisdom not to screw up a simple and good thing like this frankfurter by trying to be unnecessarily avant-garde, such as wrapping it in a purple maize tortilla with a dollop of escargot foam and then dipping it in liquid nitrogen. Of course, whether this exercise in simplicity and goodness is worth $10 is another question entirely.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gloria's Pupuseria - Columbia Heights 2/5/2011

Gloria's Pupuseria
3411 14th St NW

Washington, DC 20010
Neighborhood: Columbia Heights

Gloria's Pupuseria is a small storefront located on 14th Street, about a 5 minute walk from Columbia Heights. It is an inconspicuous place that is very easy to pass by, but because of my quest to find the best pupusas in the DMV, the name drew me in.

When you walk inside, it feels like you have stepped into someone's living room (just watch your step, the low ceiling was brushing against my head). The color palate is aquamarine and pink, giving the place a feminine vibe. A television in the corner was broadcasting a Spanish language telenovela, with an elderly women sitting in a corner watching it while going over her books. In the back, three women were preparing the food in a kitchen. The menu's selections, though Salvodorean, all seemed recognizably homey and comforting (stews, roasts, things of that nature).

I only had time to get takeout, so I can't give a complete report about the quality of the service, but the woman who appeared to own the restaurant was very friendly. Although she didn't have a great grasp of English, and ordering took some time, she was very patient. I waited a while as they were preparing my pupusas, but, I've come to expect that. At this point, I would be suspicious if an order of pupusas came out too quickly because they have to prepared a la minute in order to have optimal flavor and texture. So, if you get a pupusa under 5 minute, they probably have been sitting under a heating lamp somewhere, and you probably shouldn't patronize that store again.

The pupusas and the accompanying curtido (pickled cabbage and red salsa) were solid and correct. The pronounced corn flavor I expect from a good pupusa was there, and while I wished the cheese was a bit more melted, it didn't detract terribly from the experience. I also ordered a revuelta pupusa, which has ground beef in it, and, again, it was well made and tasty, especially when eaten with the tangy curtido. I think I have come to prefer plain cheese, probably because it is evocative of a good slice of pizza, but I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up to either a black bean or beef pupusa.

The final point I would like to make is that, while I was waiting for my dish, I noticed the proprietor running around the dining room, wiping down every table, even though they all appeared spotless. After they were as shimmering as her standards dictated, she took the time to start wiping down her menus so that they would be as immaculate as possible (I must have come in during a slow period). Gloria's is a small place, and I wouldn't expect haute cuisine, but the proprietor's zealous effort to keep her restaurant as clean and comfortable as possible demonstrates her passion, which was refreshing to witness, especially considering passion's complete absence in most restaurants at Gloria's price range. This is a good reminder why we should, on occasion, refrain from getting a burrito at Chipotle or a burger at 5 Guys, with all of their mechanical precision, and go out of our way to patronize an unassuming, independently owned restaurant. I find what they may lack in execution and technical skill, they oftentimes make up in passion. The experience I had at Gloria's, while brief, was one of those instances.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Raw Milk Cheeses Might Be Banned

I just read this article in the New York Times about the FDA reviewing their current regulations for cheeses made out of raw milk. The current rule allows these cheeses in the market so long as they are aged for at least sixty days. There is some speculation that the FDA might increase the number of days these cheeses have to age before being sold or even to go so far as to ban the sale of raw milk cheeses altogether.

The sixty day rule is already ridiculous. Because of it, the sale of real Camembert, Epoisses, and other soft cheeses are currently forbidden in the States. If you ban all raw milk cheeses, say good bye to Roquefort, Maytag Blue, Morbier, Comte, Gruyere, Manchego, and Parmagiano-Reggiano. Get your green cans of Kraft Grated Parm ready for our brave new pasteurized world.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Don Juan Restaurant Carryout - Mount Pleasant 2/2/2011

Don Juan Restaurant
1660 Lamont St NW

Washington, DC 20010

Mount Pleasant Street, specifically between Irving and Park, is a hub for Salvadorean cuisine in the District. Salvadorean restaurants line this vibrant commercial corridor, offering a wide array of Salvadorean and Mexican dishes. I was looking for one specific dish...the pupusa.

Pupusas are a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a variety of fillings. Fillings range from a soft cheese called quesillo (similar in texture to Queso Oaxaca, and to be frank, Mozzarella), black beans, ground beef, ground pork, chicharron, and vegetables. Pupusas are also served with a side of lightly pickled cabbage called curtido, which is like a tangy cole slaw, and a soupy tomato-based salsa. These dishes have been feted in the DC food press for some time, but I have had a hard time willing myself to go out and find out where to get the best ones. After doing a little research, I decided to head up to Mount Pleasant Street, which has a high concentration of Salvadorean restaurants.

Don Juan Restaurant is located in a building on the corner of Mount Pleasant and Lamont, across the street from a small public green with benches. I chose to go to the carryout store specifically because I only wanted to order pupusas. Inside the carryout are several tables, a long counter, a large backlit menu, and the kitchen, which appears to be where they cook the food for the sit down restaurant.

After ordering my pupusas, I sat down and looked up to see ESPN Deportes broadcasting a Spanish La Liga soccer game. As I settled in, I saw a trickle of men enter, ordering pupusas, and then sitting down in order to watch the game. As Real Madrid started to make a push towards the goal, everyone's voices became increasingly more animated and excited, chattering wildly as shots began to rain towards the overwhelmed Sevilla goalkeeper. It felt like I was in a comfortable and unpretentious neighborhood sports bar where you can sit back, order a drink and some finger foods, and chat with the people next to you (if you're fluent in Spanish, which unfortunately, I am not). Let us say the real life Don Juan would probably steer clear of this was definitely a sausage fest, albeit an extremely convivial and friendly one.

I waited for some time...about 10 minutes, I would say, for my pupusas...but they were worth the wait. I sliced into my first one, and a stream of gooey, runny cheese immediately oozed out. After biting into it, the soft cheese gushed in my mouth, coating my palate with the soft, velvety texture not wholly unlike good burrata. Better, though, was the explosion of corn in my mouth...a pronounced melange of sweetness and nuttiness, accented by the melted cheese. Then, in order to cleanse the palate, I scooped up some curtido with salsa, which lent a tangy spiciness to the pupusas while also conveying a refreshingly tingling spine of acidity as well. The black bean pupusa was just as good, but I think I personally preferred the plain cheese. Something about the comforting simplicity of the dish struck a chord.

This is a good place to get pupusas, and the ambiance isn't so bad that you would feel like you would want to carry out your order. It's a downright friendly place. It also has free Wi-Fi (but apparently no public restrooms).

Pica Taco - Columbia Heights 2/1/2011

Pica Taco
1406 Florida Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009

Pica Taco is a small taqueria tucked away on Florida Avenue, just a hop, skip, and drunken stumble away from the gentrification creep on 14th Street. The majority of the new development (the lux condos, the organic YES market, Busboys, etc.) is located on the eastern side of 14th while the western side contains the remains of what was once a skid row: dilapidated storefronts, carryouts, a food pantry, and of course, further down 14th near U, that monument to Marion Berry's Ozymadian ego, the DC Municipal Building. Pica Taco seems as if it sits squarely within this latter milieu, but considering the quality of the food inside, I feel it can certainly survive the wave of gentrification that's crashing upon the neighborhood.

The building is small, unassuming, and seems to be a former garage or carriage house. But for the small backlit sign and awning, it would be easy to miss. Primarily geared as a carryout, there are several small tables inside where you can sit down. After ordering, you can watch the kitchen staff prepare your food in the open kitchen and then watch as they bring it back to the counter, dress your dish with various sauces and toppings, and then place it in the pass for you to pick up. The friendly lady at the counter helpfully asked whether I wanted hot sauce, and after saying yes, she gave me a squeeze-bottle containing salsa verde (a spicy tomatillo sauce) that was clearly made in-house.

I ordered three tacos: a lengua (beef tongue), a barbacoa (braised, shredded beef), and a pastor (a shredded pork dish with spicy seasoning), wrapped in corn tortillas. Each was moist, tender, and flavorful. The barbacoa stole the show with its deep, savory, beefy flavor that only a well executed braise can pull off. While the lengua and pastor were both good, they tasted a little innocuous...not bland, but not quite as identifiably "porky" or "offalish" as I would like. But, they were still tasty and some might appreciate that they aren't too gamy in flavor. I was also slightly annoyed that I was given lemon, rather than lime, but that is just picking nits. I mainly used the salsa verde, anyway, which I actually wished was a little spicier and tangier, but it was still good and acted as a nice accompaniment to the tacos.

These reasonably priced tacos (about $2.25 each) are about as well prepared as any I have had in the DMV. Go. Now.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super Tacos & Bakery - Adams Morgan 1/30/2011

Super Tacos & Bakery
1762 Columbia Road NW
Washington, DC 20009

Super Tacos & Bakery is across the street from the so-called "Spanish Safeway" located on Columbia Road. It is near several Hispanic grocery stores, a Peruvian chicken restaurant, and several other shops that appear to cater to a Hispanic clientele.

Inside, the store is bare bones with an exposed kitchen behind the counter where you order. The place is clearly meant to be a carryout, though there are some stools and another countertop where one can eat in.

The menu, which is posted on several large green signs that run across the perimeter of the entire store, has a large selection. Tortas, enchiladas, burritos, and many other Mexican staples were available, including selected dishes such as the "Gringo burrito," which is apparently the chicken burrito. It was quite entertaining to watch this one kid, fresh out of college and rocking an L.L. Bean fleece vest, stumble into the restaurant with his girlfriend, look at the menu slightly bewildered, and then guilelessly order, in a voice that sounded like it just started cracking last week, for a "gringo burrito" without the faintest hint of irony.

I ordered three tacos: the lengua, the carnitas, and the pastor. The lengua (beef tongue) taco was excellent. It was slightly gamy, but extremely tender and moist. The carnitas and the pastor (both shredded pork) were both less exciting. I found the texture to the carnitas to be a little mealy and mushy, and the flavor a little bland. The pastor had some chili seasoning on it to make it a little more flavorful, but it had the same textural issues as the carnitas. The tacos were also enormous...three were way too much for me (and I am 240 lbs. and 6'6"), and next time I will stick to two or fewer. Because of their size, the tacos were also a bit more expensive than other taco stores in DC (about $3 each).

There was a also a salsa bar that had a salsa roja, a salsa verde, and a pico de gallo. All three were fantastic. The salsa roja had an earthy, smoky spiciness while the salsa verde was all bright, tangy freshness. The pico de gallo was also incredibly fresh and flavorful. The tomatoes were ripe, which, considering the time of year, meant they were either from a greenhouse or Peru (or perhaps both), but it is a sign that the proprietors make an effort to get good product for their restaurant.

All in all, I thought it was a solid experience. The woman at the counter was incredibly sweet and the service alone made me want to patronize this store again. Next time, I'll try the tortas.

Lighthouse Tofu (Vit Goel) - Rockville 1/29/2011

Lighthouse Tofu
12710 Twinbrook Pkwy

Rockville, MD 20847

Lighthouse Tofu (also known as Vit Goel) is a Korean "tofu" restaurant located a short distance from the Twinbrook Metro Station and also has another branch in Annandale, VA. This place specializes in dishes called soondubu, which is a stew of soft, custardy tofu in an extremely spicy soup. Although this restaurant specializes in "tofu" dishes, this is no safe-haven for vegetarians. The vast majority of the entrees have seafood or meat in them, and even some of the dishes that may appear to be fauna-free (specifically the complimentary panchan dishes) often are seasoned with seafood based condiments known as jeotgal. Of course, I am about as sympathetic to those vegetarians who complain about being "duped" into eating "animal-tainted" food in Korean restaurants as those who go to a McDonald's and who are shocked, absolutely shocked, to discover those luscious fries they were eating were dipped in beef tallow (there is a reason Korean cuisine is known for their beef BBQ rather than the gruel served in mountain monasteries to Buddhist monks). However, I thought some fair warning to the fastidiously flora-inclined was necessary.

Housed in a free-standing building, slightly reminiscent of the Greek diners prevalent in the southwestern Connecticut sprawl where I hail from, the exterior is adorned with a large banner advertising "$6.99 Korean Pancakes," which I suppose would make this place a more legitimate international house of pancakes than that other blue-roofed ambassador of flapjacks. The interior is rather typical for a Korean restaurant: lots of wood paneling, some private rooms with sliding lattice doors, and a wall proudly draped with a large American flag on one side with a much smaller Korean flag, tastefully tucked behind a potted plant, next to it. The clientele mainly consisted of Korean families, some other Asian ethnicities, I suspect, with the occasional Caucasian or three sprinkled throughout the crowd. A wailing baby serenaded me as we sat down.

The waitress arrived quickly and was quite courteous and patient, though she clearly did not have an absolute command of English and ordering was slowly deliberative. Allow me the opportunity to make a quick aside on the often-repeated complaint that members of Korean wait staff are rude. Personally, I don't recall ever receiving rude service in a Korean restaurant. Brusque, certainly, paternalistic even (especially with respect to Korean BBQ), but, from my own statistically insignificant sample set of observations, that mainly stems from my lack of Korean competency and their inability to speak fluently in English. Rather unsurprisingly, they don't tend to chat you up when they lack the linguistic ability to do so. Indeed, I am sure most must feel some embarrassment about being unable to fully understand the demands of customers outside of the occasional one word order or demonstrative semaphore, so I would chalk up brusqueness to these factors rather than a malicious intent to slight.

The panchan we received, which is meant to be an accompaniment to the rice, but often acts as a (large) amuse bouche, was quite frankly poor. The kimchi was soggy, leaden, and dull. It was clearly made that day, which one would normally think is a benefit, but for kimchi is a decided deficiency. Kimchi is a pickled dish that needs time to ferment. Given time, the spices actually mellows, the tangy acidity increases, the leaves of the cabbage can become deliciously crisp, and overall it can leave a refreshing impression on the palate. This dish had none of those things. The other complimentary dishes were slightly better: the bean sprouts were also a little soggy, the cucumbers had decent crunch, but could have fermented a little longer, and everything else was fine and forgettable. The cold kimchi soup they served was actually refreshing. This was fairly consistent with my experience in the Annandale branch (though the soup was much better there).

We also ordered several of the "$6.99 pancakes": an "oyster pancake," a "seafood pancake" and a "kimchi pancake." The kimchi pancake was the best, conveying brightness and tang to the crisp texture of the pancake (hint: a great way to salvage bad kimchi is to cook it). The seafood pancake and the oyster pancake turned out to be identical in flavor...though I suppose there might have been a nugget of oyster hidden in one of them, though I didn't get it. It was good...not too oily, had good texture, but not something that really stood out.

I also ordered the "spicy seafood soondubu," and this was clearly where this meal shined. You have the option to order soondubu mild, spicy, and "spicy spicy;" being faint of palate now, I chose spicy and it was just barely below my heat tolerance threshold. But, nonetheless, the soup was delicious, especially with the soft, creamy, and custardy tofu. It also comes with a raw egg, which I recommend you crack and mix the raw white and yolk into the soup. It comes boiling hot, so by the time you stir the egg into the broth, it is thoroughly cooked. It adds such an extra dimension of creaminess to dish, I could only shake my head in sadness when I saw other tables with their unused eggs. The soup also had two head-on shrimp and others miscellaneous bits of fruits de mer, and you could taste them in the broth. Well done!

The surprise was the the galbi, i.e., the sliced, marinated short ribs. The restaurant does not specialize in BBQ, but nonetheless, the kitchen produced as fine an example of galbi as I have had in a DMV Korean restaurant. It was moist, juicy, flavorful, and properly broiled. The marinade wasn't over-sweetened (which mars most of the Korean BBQ I have had in the past) with sugar, though there was a bed of sauteed onions, which I suspect was broiled with the ribs, which lended itself to the dish. All in all, a truly nice surprise.

As we left, it was near closing time, so I got a peek of the staff meal, and it looked like they were actually eating dishes from the regular menu. They were eating nakji jeongol, which is "casserole" of sauteed small octopus in a spicy sauce. I haven't had there rendition of this classic here, but I've heard mixed things. But, of course, octopus is not exactly a crowd pleaser, so it might be good. It certainly looked it and I might try it next time.

If you've never been to a Korean restaurant before, this place might not be the best place to start. As noted, this place specializes in only a select few dishes and is geared mainly to the traditional Korean palate. For the most part, within this limited scope, it is done well (and quite frankly better than at its sister branch in Annandale (though I've only been there once)). But, if you aren't familiar with these flavors, it might be a little too much, too soon, and you would probably be better served trying Yechon, which serves a wider variety of dishes and BBQ.