News & Politics

June 2006 Cheap Eats: Woo Lae Oak DC

The energy is high at this sleek outpost of the Arlington original. You'll find the usual Korean barbecue, casseroles, and noodle dishes but also a beguiling lineup of Asian small plates. Rich slices of duck are countered with the sweet graininess of roasted figs. Seared scallops get a drizzle of lemon-chili oil and bits of buttery avocado and pineapple. Steak tartare is nestled alongside Korean pear, a quivering quail egg, and sweet, nutty sesame sauce.

Other corners of the menu offer pleasures like jeon, batter-coated morsels of meat or fish, and a plain but soothing dumpling soup. Noodle dishes like chap jae, vermicelli infused with soy sauce and enlivened with bits of meat and vegetables, are the bargains. So are casseroles like bibim bap–rice crowned with filaments of meat and seaweed to mix with a runny fried egg, soy sauce, and chili paste. Short ribs slow-cooked in a dense brew of chestnut and dates, and barbecue items like lean bul goki (boneless rib eye) or carmelized spicy pork will take the tab higher. All come with a bevy of Korean condiments known as panchan, tiny dishes filled with tidbits like cucumber kimchee, fried fish to eat whole, and sweet-sour pickled sprouts. Add a noodle dish and you won't go hungry.

For dessert, take your cue from the Korean clientele, who skip the Western sweets–chocolate-mousse cake, a trio of crèmes brûlée–and sip on cups of cool cinnamon tea with floating pine nuts. Ritual calls for holding the cup with both hands.

Appetizers $7 to $13, small plates $4 to $7, entrées $7 to $29.