Have you ever dipped chips into a salsa so vivid that you kept
dipping long after you were sated? Then it’s time to acquaint yourself
with the chili sauce at Moa, a Korean restaurant in a section of Rockville
where auto parts are more common than good eats. To rattle off the
ingredients—soy sauce, chili and sesame oils, green onions—is to miss the
magic of this sauce, one of those cases in which the sum is much greater
than its parts. A waitress one night noticed we had drained our
“You like?” she asked. We loved.
We cut into a seafood pancake ($15.99) as if it were a pizza
and drizzled it with the sauce, watching it run into the crunchy frittata
dense with shrimp, squid, and octopus. A perfect marriage.
So, too, the chili sauce and the dumplings called
mandu ($8.99). The translucent skins held a garlicky mixture of
kimchee and pork, and the sauce was as intense as the filling.
Still, the sauce isn’t a necessity—the kitchen is putting out
some of the most exciting Korean food in the area right now.
Spicy pork with kimchee is a gloriously pungent stew, cooked at
the table with pork ribs, green onions, and rice cakes vying for attention
in a peppery broth.
The galbi arrives in a skillet with tender short-rib
meat atop sizzling onions. Enfold the beef in crisp lettuce with some
rice, a dab of bean paste, and a few slices of garlic. This is a wrap that
goes beyond mere convenience.
Rice and noodle dishes are as rewarding. Bibim bap
($9.99) is built atop perfect rice, with beef, veggies, and a soft egg.
Buckwheat noodles provide a tasty base for bands of radish, cucumber, and
beef. Crumble the hard-boiled egg over it and blend.
Beware of over-ordering. Two or three dishes amounts to a feast
for two, especially when you factor in panchan, the cold snacks
that accompany every meal.
Order a cold Hite, a Korean beer, or a carafe of Soju Cocktail
($15.99), a blend of the Korean liquor soju and puréed fruit. I
like the watermelon and mango versions—each has kick amid the sweetness.
As with that magical chili sauce, you’re likely to drain the pitcher
before you’ve realized it and be tempted to order another.
This article appears in the August 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.