Journeys Close to Home
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 29. 2008
Sound Check: 73 decibels; Must speak with raised voice
Need a little attention? Head to a Korean restaurant, and make it Seoul House. Dinner commences with a flurry of panchan -- conjure fiery kimchi, baby anchovies, spicy spinach -- that crowd the table, and the meal often continues with some pampering from your waitress. Order the marinated beef short ribs (kalbi), a highlight on this long menu, and she tends to the cutting and cooking of the meat at the small barbecue on your table as if you were her only customer. Forget to mix the thin rice noodles with the spicy sauteed baby octopus -- No. 8 on a sublist of special dishes -- and she gives you a little lecture followed by a demonstration. Actually, she thoroughly blends the ingredients and all but feeds you with chopsticks.
I'm almost always sorry when I order sushi in a Korean restaurant, and Seoul House is no exception. Its fish is cut far too big for my taste, so that the pillow of vinegared rice is almost completely obscured, and the morsels lack the delicacy that makes the best sushi such a treasure. It's better to begin a meal with the kitchen's Korean staples, such as the pleasantly chewy pancake topped with fat oysters and sharp scallions; or squiggles of cool, raw, sesame oil-glossed beef, to which an egg yolk and batons of Asian pear are added at the table for a steak tartare like few others. Entrees show up right behind appetizers, although no one is rushing you to eat quickly.
Set in a generic Northern Virginia shopping center, Seoul House does not distinguish itself with its exterior. Make your way past the door, however, and you'll discover a room that's warm in wood, colorful with (fake) flowers and bustling with activity at lunch, where the magnets include a mostly Japanese buffet for $13.95 and 21 specials for less than $10, including chili-fired pork slices (No. 2) that beg to be washed back with a beer.