- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Woo Lae Oak offers high-quality Korean cuisine and great service in a roomy and comfortable setting.

The setting is a bit tired, but we’ll start with Woo Lae Oak’s best and brightest feature — its food.

We started with a tiny, tasty serving of goo jul pan, small crepes with a filling of shredded beef, seafood and vegetables. As with many Korean dishes, it comes with a dipping sauce — in this case a delicious sweet mustard sauce.

Our second round of nice starters included a combination platter of egg and flour coated, pan-fried meatballs (go ki jun), shrimp (se wun jun), fish (seng sun jun) and green peppers stuffed with ground beef (go chu jun) served with a sweet soy sauce.

This appetizer is filling and could easily serve as a main course. But who would want to miss out on Woo Lae Oak’s 15 Korean barbecue choices?

We didn’t. We picked bul go ki, thin slices of high-quality, marinated beef, which our very pleasant waitress helped us barbecue on the grill in the middle of the table.

Instead of a dipping sauce, this dish is served with a bean paste, which together with rice and the barbecued meat is wrapped — burrito-style — in a romaine lettuce leaf. It’s a delicious combination in which each ingredient complements the next.

The barbecue dishes also come with a brothy soup — tasty, but nothing special — and the mandatory, scrumptious kimchi, or pickled vegetables.

Our kimchi consisted of a half-dozen kinds of pickled vegetables: cucumbers filled with spicy red pepper; delicious spinach laced with sesame oil; so-so alfalfa sprouts; another yummy sesame-oil concoction with shredded cabbage, and another with carrots; and food-colored yellow radishes.

Seafood dishes include broiled salmon and eel, and the hot-pot dishes (which are cooked at the table and served with rice and kimchi) give the diner choices of beef intestines and seafood, and several noodle dishes.

The noodle soup with seafood and vegetables cooked in a stone pot is delicious, though a little heavy on the tofu and light on the tasty, lightly-battered shrimp (only two giant shrimp were included). The noodles are great, thick and flavorful.

Aside from tea, beer goes well with this cuisine and the restaurant carries the tasty, light Korean OB Beer. For those craving something more potent, cocktails and wines can also be had.

Desserts include choices that are friendly toward Western palates, such as green tea ice-cream and others that are a bit unusual to Western tastes, but still tasty, such as su jung gua, a cold drink flavored with cinnamon, ginger, persimmons and pine nuts.

It is reminiscent of the German gluhwein and we suggested to our waitress that it might be served hot? Oh, no. Always cold, was the response.

Compared to some other Asian restaurants, Woo Lae Oak is not an inexpensive eatery. But the portions are usually very generous and the food preparation excellent, making it all worthwhile.

The service, too, is great. Our waitress was helpful but not hovering. She instructed us on grilling and dissuaded us from ge jang, raw crab pickled in soy sauce, for which we were grateful.

While getting high marks for food and service, the decor definitely needs some help. Except for a nice glass case with Korean antique pottery on one wall, the interior is boring and dated. But since there’s cooking and grilling of meat, seafood and vegetables going on at most tables, you can easily divert your eyes to that which matters most, the fresh, well-prepared and delicious food.

RESTAURANT: Woo Lae Oak, 1500 S. Joyce St., Arlington, 703/521-3706

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday

PRICES: Starters $6.95 to $50.95; main courses (dinner) $10.95 to $50 (chef specialties that require one-day advance reservation); main courses (lunch) $8.95 to $10.95; desserts $3.50 to $4.95

CREDIT CARDS: All major credit cards accepted

PARKING: Ample free parking available

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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