Woomi Garden

Korean restaurants are hard to write about for the very fact that most are quite good and they serve basically the same array of traditional dishes.  However, my visits to various establishments were generally marred by loud and flashy restaurant environments or food that appeared mass produced without a sense of personal touch.  For these very reasons, many Korean restaurants have been visited, but only a couple have made it on my blog site.

Woomi Garden

I had passed by Woomi Garden for many years from my visits to my favorite Cantonese joint (read blog) located close by in Wheaton, MD.  Speaking to some Koreans, they always pointed to this establishment, and I had to get over my bias of the place due its rather rundown look on the exterior.  Furthermore, a great coupon offer appeared online, and that sealed the deal for me to make it through its doors.  Walking in, you immediately sense that its charm saw its heyday a few years ago with the decor looking very Old School/Old World and the place feeling that it needs a good scrub down from all the barbecue smoke from the last decade.  Counteracting my immediate reaction, the sight of expats and a fairly full house were the assurances that I needed to quell some of my trepidations.

Korean Side Dishes Miso Soup

A litmus test of Korean restaurants, in my mind, is with the side dishes placed before the arrival of any dish.  The seven small bowls were served on both occasions with only a single change on another visit.  The Kimchi tasted quite tangy and spicy, with a slightly crunch to indicate its proper breakdown from the spice marination.  The beansprouts were slightly salty with a hint of sesame oil and tasting still slightly crunchy.  The unwaxed cucumber (Kirby type found in Korean marts) were slightly wilted from a slightly sweet spicy mix.  The Chinese spinach was barely wilted and slightly salty and aromatic from sesame oil. The shredded daikon was crunchy, sweet, and tangy. The salad was deceptively tasty from a light vinaigrette.  The pressed tofu skins were savory and meaty in texture.  The potato was savory from soy sauce and slightly sweet.  All these dishes passed the litmus test well, and not a single morsel was left on both visits.  The complementary Miso soup was properly made with enough bean paste in the soup, mixed with pieces of tofu, umami-filled Wakame seaweed, and slivers of green onion.


One appetizer that is a favorite of mine is Mandu or Fried Dumplings.  The appetizer portion here is quite sizable with six rather large pockets making it to the table.  The skin was the thick version made blistered from some good hot frying, but it was not too stodgy to fill one up quickly.  One bite into it revealed a fairly savory mixture of minced pork and beef, made a bit fragrant from a good amount of finely chopped green onion.  The side sauce was tasting salty from soy sauce, tangy from vinegar, and spicy from slices of jalapeño, making the pockets even more tempting.  Despite having eaten three of them, they didn’t fill me up nor prevented me from looking forward to the rest of the meal.  Not a bad start.

Beef Bulgogi

Beef Bulgogi

On one occasion, we ordered two main proteins for the mains.  The first was the obligatory Beef Bulgogi.  The plate of raw meat arrived looking bright red and very freshly prepared.  Our waitress had heated up the grill plate and thankfully the strong vents were working, a common complaint I have about many such eateries.  The grilled product was tender pieces of beef, tasting well-seasoned of slightly sweet and quite peppery from white pepper.   The lettuce leaves served as wraps for these meaty morsels, but I found the side miso-based sauce too salty with each packet.  I have had many versions of this dish, and I must admit that this is a very good rendition here.




Barbecue Pork Belly

The other main was Marinated Pork.  Just when I thought that the beef dish was a great hit, this meat cut did not take a secondary role. The pieces of pork were quite tender, tasting quite sweet, and made spicy and slightly smoky from the use of dried chili powder.  It was this combination of flavors that made each piece irresistible and especially interesting from that smoky note which reminded me of smoked paprika.  I must have had overdosed on meat that night due to the latter two meat dishes and their well-marinated flavors.  But with such wonderful flavors and quality meat cuts, one just can’t help himself from doing so.



Jap Chae

Jap Chae is a common dish found in most Korean places, and an order was placed here. The large plate arrived with a generous portion.  What I appreciated about what I ate was the tapioca noodles that were slightly al dente, the pieces of carrot, sweet onion, red pepper that were quite slightly crunchy to provide a textural counterpoint, pieces of green onion that added the slightly pungency, the wood fungus that added the slippery texture, all topped by egg strands.  The seasoning was perfect with its savoriness and the right amount of sesame oil as to not overwhelm the whole mix.  This is another must-order here in my books.

Barbecue Shrimp

Another visit was marked by two other proteins for the grill pan.  The first was Large Shrimp.  The order was generous with around a dozen of the butterflied large pieces.  Our waitress was so busy running around that night, being a full house on the weekend, that I had to attend to the cooking.  The pieces were well-marinated tasting slightly sweet with a bite from a good dose of black pepper, which made the seafood more interesting than the usual treatment.  Unfortunately, the pieces were slightly overcooked due to my late rescue, but the flavors made up for that flaw.  The vegetable sides were sweet red pepper, sweet onion, button mushroom, broccoli, and Shiitake mushroom, the latter being the star among the veggies with its meaty texture and boschy notes.  If weren’t for the overcooking, this would have been the perfect dish.

Barbecue Chicken Breast

To balance things out, we had to order the Chicken dish which comes in the breast form.  The fairly large pieces tasted well-marinated, as in the case of all the above proteins, quite sweet from the caramelization on the grill, and a hint of white pepper.  Yes, the poultry was a bit dry due to the lack of attention from our super busy waitress, but I managed to save it from beyond redemption. If chicken breast is your thing, I won’t hesitate ordering it here due to the flavors that each piece carried.

Sweet Rice Soup


To end the meal, we were served wth a traditional “dessert”.  It consisted of a slightly sweet soup made “milky” from grains of rice boiled until it is quite spongy.  The soup tasted sweet from the use of rock sugar which has a subtle distinctive taste from granular sugar.  This reminded me of my grandmother’s version, but she would let the brew ferment for a few days to produce an amazing boozy elixir.  But this meal-ender was refreshing and enough to give me the sugar fix without saturating my taste buds.






Woomi GardenWoomi Garden is definitely a great find for Korean fare.  Yes, its decor is screaming for a serious update and a heavy scrub down.  Putting that aside, what makes this place spectacular is the finesse and flavors in all the dishes that we ordered, starting from the proper Miso soup, to the pretty good dumplings, to the scrumptious side dishes that balanced the meal perfectly, to the proteins that were well-marinated and from good cuts, and to the Jap Chae that had a perfect balance of flavors and textures.  Again, never judge a restaurant by its faded front and decor, but by its offerings and the sight of a filled dining room.  Now, time for me to get a couple more coupons before the offer is over.

Woomi Garden Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Myong Dong

In the last blog posting on a Ghanaian restaurant serving a good rendition of the West African dish, Fufu, (read blog),  I mentioned its location round the corner from a favorite Korean haunt of mine. Myong Dong has been in the same strip mall since I visited it for the first time during my graduate school days 26 years ago (OMG!!). Ever since then, I paid it many visits during lunch time on days when school was out or during the holidays. I never considered writing about this place due to the infrequent stop-in’s, but recently, I realized that it was worth mentioning this eatery on my blog site.


Walking in the space, you are confronted by a neat looking space with simple yet appealing wooden tables and chairs. After placing the order and being served some water or hot barley tea, an array of different side dishes would appear in front of the diner. I must say that I am fond of this aspect of Korean cuisine, and I have had my fair share of these preludes to the meal. What Myong Dong serves up is not the same quantity as some other establishments, but the few, around 3 or 4, are best judged for their quality and flavors. The Kimchi tastes quite fresh and having been given the proper marination, the Napa cabbage is slightly wilted while tasting spicy from some chili and ginger, and slightly sour to balance the flavors. Another dish is pickled Daikon. Cubes of the white root vegetable is still crunchy without tasting raw, exuding some sweet and rice-vinegar sourness, good enough for one to ask for another serving and sip that sweet vinegary liquor. Pickled Cucumber is also another mainstay. Pieces of unwaxed baby cucumber tasting slightly crunchy from its skin and soft on the inside have been marinated with some chili paste and vinegar. Infrequently, Pickled Green Chilies make an appearance, exuding its natural capsaicin heat along with its pickling of soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar. I must say that I would devour these sides before my main course, and I always ask for refills during my meal. If I could, I would make a meal out of them for they are just oh-so-good.


It would be amiss to eat at a Korean restaurant without trying their Mandu or Stuffed Dumplings. For many years, I would order their lunch specials, and the dishes would arrived with a couple of these fried small bites as part of the combination. Each time, I was taken aback by how good they were. So, on one visit, I placed an order from the appetizer section which comes in either 6 or 12 pieces. This separate order only reaffirmed my take on them: the perfectly crispy thin skin encapsulated a meat stuffing that was both fragrant, with a good hit of white pepper, and savory at the same time, making one to savor every morsel of these tasty delights. As if these dumplings were not good enough, there is a side sauce that takes them beyond the stratosphere with the flavors of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and perhaps Mirin, making it a completely sippable elixir. These small fellows do make big strides indeed on the tongue with their awesomeness.


Lunch time is usually the time for my visits to this place in order for me to take advantage of the reasonably priced lunch specials. Most of the offerings are marinated meats served in Bento-styled boxes. One of my favorites is Spicy Pork. What arrives is grilled meat tasting spicy from a good marination with some chili paste and slightly sweet to balance the heat, mixed with some sweet peppers and onions. What I appreciate about the meats here is that they are properly marinated for a length of time before sweating it out on the grill; the same goes for the beef and chicken orders. Accompanying the meat are usually some rice, a simply crispy salad, those irresistible fried dumplings, some pieces of fried tofu in sauce, and a slice of fruit – a true balance of Ying and Yang. With those delectable side dishes to go along with the main dish, what more could I ask for during my lunch time?


Another order from the lunch special menu is Rice Bowl. The bowl arrives with pretty much the elements of the previous dish: grilled marinated meat, salad, and fried dumplings, strands of egg and toasted seaweed sheets, all sitting on a mound of rice. But here, there is an addition of chili paste to be mixed in with all the aforementioned, allowing the diner to control the amount of chili heat to one’s liking. So depending on my mood, I would order this bowl when I want all the parts coming together, or the box if I am in the mood for something deconstructed. Either way, both are winners in my stomach.


Beyond the lunch specials, I found a couple of dishes that are also in my repertoire of favorites, Be Beam Naeng Myun being the first. The bowl arrives with a mound of cold buckwheat noodle topped with some spicy bean sauce, slices of pickled daikon, raw cucumber, slices of cooked brisket, a boiled egg, all sitting on a pool of chilled sauce.   A couple of scissor snips of the noodle and a good mix of the elements brought the dish together to its gestalt height.  Every element contributed to that effect with the rather firm noodles, the sweet spicy paste, the vinegary daikon, the cool crunchy cucumber, the beefy brisket, the rich egg, all enveloped by the savory chilled sauce laced with fragrant sesame oil.  This dish is a definite hit for me, especially while we are still enveloped by the summer heat.


The other dish is like the above, a noodle dish, but in a spicy soup form – Jam Pong. The bowl arrived with some thick noodles swimming in a fiery red soup, with bits of mussels, pork, squid and baby corn accompanying the main starch.  The seafood was perfectly cooked, tasting sea sweet and fresh, the vegetables cooked and adding their vegetal sweetness, and the noodles tasting home-made and al dente.  But it was the soup that brought the tasty bits together, with its depth in flavor and spiciness that was both searing and alluring.  In the last couple of orders, the mussels were overcooked, and I will make it a point to request the kitchen not to overcook them since I truly enjoy this spicy noodle bowl.


On a number of visits, I noticed that some diners were feasting on some Fried Chicken. With that in mind, I decided to try their rendition which comes in half or whole chicken.  My order was the half bird chopped up into large pieces, dipped in batter and deep-fried.  One bite into a piece revealed its true nature.  The batter was not the seasoned flour type, but a barely seasoned rice flour coating. The meat was cooked through, including the pieces of breast meat that were still moist, but again, not as seasoned as I thought.  A dip into the side salt mixture was the secret in its eating that provided the necessary seasoning and flavors that “woke” these pieces up.  In other words, the pieces of poultry was the canvas to the salt seasoning that was a secret (according to Mrs. Chef) mixture of salt, chili powder, and other ingredients that made it de rigueur for these crunchy bites.  Once I could wrap my brain around this distinctive approach of fried chicken, I began to enjoy and appreciate this unique version. However, I would have preferred the poultry cooked a couple of minutes more, and I will request such an order for that extra crispiness.

It has been hard thinking of a Korean eating establishment to write on, but ultimately, I resorted to a place that I have been patronizing all these years since I have been living in Maryland.  Yes, it is not a big space nor do they offer a wide variety of dishes usually found in bigger eateries.  But I have always enjoyed their marinated meat lunch specials, fried chicken and the noodle dishes, as well as those side dishes that keep calling my name every time I take a seat there.  Now with  lunch specials offered the whole day on Sundays, I have another reason to indulge in these Korean treats.


Hee Been Asian Bistro

Note: The Crystal City/Alexandria branch has closed.

Warning:  The following blog contains NO photos due to the lack of planning, and it was an impromptu visit to this establishment.  Furthermore, photos from all-you-can-eat buffets contain too much for the eye to digest and maybe hazardous to one’s health.

After enduring the ordeal of getting my blood drawn for a blood test at my doctor’s (yes, poor me, even though it was just a small prick), I decided to “reward” myself with a stop at an Asian bistro buffet not too far from his office.  Customarily, I would refrain from visiting all-you-can-eat’s because there is always the temptation of over-indulging and over-eating  – at my age, this is not a wise move especially given the fact that I’m planning to take my clothes off in a couple of weeks in public;  at the beach, I must add.  But with a phone app offer that was running out soon, I decided to visit this Korean-Japanese eatery.

Hee Been Asian Bistro sits above the Harris Teeter grocery store in a rather dead modern building complex (most likely a casualty of the depressed economy), located just off the busy Route 1 in the business-filled area of Crystal City, VA.  Finding it was quite easy once you notice Harris Teeter which is temporarily closed due to a sewage back-up in the supermarket (oh crap!).  Parking in the basement is free, which makes visits during the day time accessible and convenient (Crystal City has the same parking challenges as DC).

I paid it two visits on one day for both lunch and dinner (the punishment of gluttony I had to endure for this task!).  Walking into the establishment, you immediately notice the far wall covered end to end with several buffet sections displaying the various offerings.  It is rather overwhelming by such a large display, but hunger and growing anticipation quickly dissipate this sense of  confusion. The only remedy in such situation is to attack without hesitation, or “attaca” as composers would print in their music.

On one end, the buffet section contains various forms of salads, from the simple Potato Salad to the more bistro-like Crab Salad on Endive or the Apple and Arugula Salad.  I found the salads to be very fresh and tasty without being overdressed.  The next station was the Sushi section that contained amazingly at least 22 types during lunch time.  I was rather surprised by the freshness of the seafood and by the variety in this section, from Clam Sushi, Tuna Sushi, Octopus Sushi, and Salmon Sushi, to the different rolls that contained the fresh seafood made with velvety ripe avocado.  Fortunately, the Sushi Rolls have not be too “perverted” by overzealous sushi chefs with their bizarre creations as these were rather simple and unadulterated, the way I prefer my sushi rolls.  Again, freshness and good ingredients made these bites sing in my mouth.

Next to the raw fish section, there were the cooked Japanese section with Tempura Vegetables and Teriyaki Chicken.  I did not savor from this section as I have had my fair share of them in my lifetime.  Next to it were some Korean offerings of Squid with Vegetable Pancakes and Squash Pancakes.  I enjoyed the small round circular discs as they were tastier than what I have had in other places.  The Seafood Salad next to it was a tasty delight and I was nearly tempted into a second helping.  The Korean Noodles with Vegetable, Jap Chae, were very tasty, which I’m sure my BFF would love to stop by for some.

The next section consisted of tradition Chinese and Korean fare.  You know, the usual Chinese “stuff” like Fried Rice, Fried Noodles, Pot Stickers, etc, grub that I would not touch at all in most places.  But I did go for the hot Korean dishes: Spicy Squid stir-fry (how did they keep the squid tender?), Korean Pickles and seasoned cold cooked vegetables (I can’t get enough of them, no matter where, and the offerings were great), Cold Soba Noodles (rarely found but a great rendition here), and the typical array of Korean marinated meats.   The cooks waiting by the grill will take your plate of raw meats, cook them to perfection, and bring them to your table sizzling on an iron caste plate along with slices of sweet onions.  The large pieces of lettuce along with the different spicy bean sauces made the rather sweet beef short ribs (Bulgogi), or the spicy pork or chicken, perfect bundles of grilled meat heaven.  A couple of Thai dishes (Chicken Green Curry and Basil Chicken) were surprisingly good and filled with the Southeast Asian spicy and herbal notes.

If one hasn’t sated him/herself at this point, there is a rather generous dessert section.  It consists of cut fresh fruit, pieces of cake, and gello. Although the pieces of fruit were sweet and fresh, what I surprisingly enjoyed were the bite-size pieces of cake that were not too sweet and packed flavor, like the Strawberry Cream Cake and the Mocha Cake.  And as a traditional Korean ending, there is the Cinnamon and Ginger Tea that was laced with the mildly burning cinnamon flavor and the zinging ginger essence.

To celebrate a friend’s good news of a new job (finally, thank God/Buddha/Universe), we, along with her partner and friend, paid it a visit for dinner.  The buffet had the same dishes, in addition to the offerings of Snow Crab Legs (the celebrant was feasting on this like mad), Steamed Shrimp, Sashimi (looked very fresh and tempting), and Sweet Spareribs (which her partner seemed to enjoy) – such luxurious food items must be a result of the higher dinner price.  My friends thoroughly enjoyed and were very satisfied by the offerings and the high quality of the food.  I chose to order from the menu, Bibim Bap, which consisted of a large plate filled with grilled beef bulgogi, cold cooked squash, cold cooked carrots, fluffy egg pancake, cold cooked broad beansprouts, cooked watercress, and crispy lettuce ribbons, all tied together by a sweet spicy sauce – tasty and satisfying indeed.  However, I noticed that due to the lack of customer volume during the night, the hot dishes on the buffet line were starting to look a bit dry, sad and drab from sitting too long on the hot plate.

Hee Been Asian Bistro offers an incredibly humongous buffet with dishes made from good fresh ingredients and with expert hands at their two locations.  Currently, they are running a special of $9.99 for lunch and $17.99 for dinner for the month of June (thus this hastily written blog).  I see myself stopping by this establishment before the month is up, trying my best to refrain from overeating before my Full Monty (not quite, with a bathing suite on, of course) in a few week’s time.  Wish me luck!

Hee Been on Urbanspoon


An attempt to have brunch at a Cajun eatery a couple of weeks ago had to be aborted.  We arrived there just past the opening hour (1 p.m.), and we were told by the hostess that they would not seat us for another hour due to a staff shortage.  I asked to speak to the manager, and he reassured me that it was going to be a 10-minute wait.  While sitting at the bar while the restaurant was half empty, we struck up a conversation with a young couple who were equally as perplexed as we were, and they relayed that they had heard that it was the chef’s second day on the cooking line.  Upon hearing this, my friend and I looked at each other and quickly hauled our behinds out of that joint.

Mandu UpstairsJust a block down is Mandu, a Korean restaurant that serves traditional cuisine in a modern setting.  Most Korean restaurants that I have frequented are usually located in remote warehouse areas, or in little “Koreatowns” in the suburbs, where English is the second language judging by the retail signs and advertisements.  To stumble across one in the heart of the city, Dupont Circle, is definitely a rarity and a pleasant surprise.  My dining partner had noticed their $12 lunch special on his way to the first locale, and we decided to give Mandu a try being that it was getting to be way past my meal time (hypoglycemia is nature’s most infallible meal clock).

Stepping in the restaurant, you do not get the impression that it is a typical Korean eatery due to the rather modern ambience and the multi-cultural staff.  Having visited this place in its previous life as a Himalayan restaurant years ago, I knew there was a second floor with beautiful lighting and it was more spacious than the bottom floor.  We planted ourselves at a table under the skylight and proceeded to order.

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We decided to begin the meal with a house libation – Soujutini.  It is made with a Korean distilled liquor and an assortment of juice flavors – aloe, grape, mango, peach, pineapple, orange or yogurt.  I ordered mine made with aloe juice since I love this stuff, which I get regularly from my Korean grocer.  The liquor had a kick to it while it provided a rather strong grain alcohol note to the sweet juice.  My friend’s version was made with yogurt which was interesting, and according to him,  it tasted a bit like medicine – not quite Bailey’s Cream here.

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We decided to order a traditional appetizer, Mandu or Pot Stickers.  This place offers a variety made with Shrimp, Beef & Pork, or Vegetable.  The kitchen was flexible enough to allow me to order a couple of each type, which is not common in most Korean eateries.  The plate arrived with the potstickers lightly pan-fried after a short boil.  The dough was quite al dente but not overly so,  and the different fillings were discernable.  The accompanying dipping sauce provided the soy-saltiness and rice-vinegar-sourness to these dumplings – a good start.

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My favorite part of a Korean meal is the array of pickles and cold vegetable dishes that are customarily served with the main course.  Ours arrived with the omnipresent Kimchi pickles, eggplant and broccoli, pickled cucumbers, and marinated potato with green beans. The Kimchi was fiery, sour, and not too pungent (most are sanitized for the American palate), the eggplant and broccoli were still slightly crunchy with a sesame oil note (my friend enjoyed this), the cucumbers were fiery and slightly sour (loved it), and the marinated potato was really flavorful due to a sweet soy marinade.  I could have eaten the whole plate alone but I had to share (drats).  We requested another plate after we polished this one off quickly.

Spicy Pork Barbecue

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Our brunch platter came in a long quadrangle plate with the different elements taking their proper place.  As an attempt to bring in a non-Korean clientele and to provide a brunch menu, this platter has traditional dishes along with typical American brunch fare.  The traditional elements were a choice of Beef, Pork, Chicken or Vegetarian Korean barbecue, Gimbap (Korean vegetable-rice roll), Chive Pancakes, alongside the non-Korean hash browns and a vegetable omelette.  The hash browns and omelette (real fluffy and light) were decent but nothing spectacular, the pancakes a bit gummy (most I have tried usually are) but tasty, the Gimbap roll was good and fresh, my order of Pork barbecue was full of flavor but not as fiery as I have had elsewhere, and my friend’s order of Beef was tender and had the customary sweet, salty, and dark flavors.  Nothing particularly outstanding but good enough for me.

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A bowl of fresh-cut fruits was the dessert offering that came with the brunch special.  It looked very pretty, but the pieces of cantaloupe and melon were still a bit crunchy and not at their prime.  But I can’t expect these fruits to be at their peak during a time when we have not approached Spring yet.  However, it provided a good palate cleanser after the above dishes.

If you happen to be downtown and in the mood for Korean fare, Mandu has two restaurants (K St. and 18th St.) that will provide a casual modern ambience with good authentic cooking; this would save you a trip out of town and into the suburbs.  The menu is quite extensive and its offerings sound appealing, especially the small-bites (Jeon) and the stew dishes.    I see myself making another visit in the near future.

Mandu on Urbanspoon