Editors' pick

Spa World and Kokiri Restaurant

Korean
$$$$ ($15-$24)
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Editorial Review

Sietsema Review

Prepare for the most relaxed meal ever
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, November 18, 2012

Before I could try the food at Kokiri in Centreville, Va., I had to shell out $35 at the door just to reach the restaurant.

On the way to my most recent Korean meal, I also exchanged my street clothes for a stiff yellow smock, shed my shoes, endured a take-no-prisoners sponge massage that left me with one less layer of skin (I swear!) and nodded off, briefly, in a room where a dozen strangers lay down on a shifting “floor” of thousands of hot little red clay balls. Imagine peanut M&Ms that never melt.

Kokiri, you should know, is a 50-seat dining room tucked inside the 50,000-square-foot Spa World. And Spa World, you want to know, is some of the most fun you can have with your clothes on (or off, and more on that later). A patron could make a day of exploring the sprawling, squeaky-clean complex of pools, saunas, healing rooms, gymnasium and relaxation areas.

I’m not exaggerating; much of the family-friendly Spa World is open 24-7.

Spa World and Kokiri have different owners, but they're related: Sang Lee and Raymond Lee are brothers who opened their respective businesses under the same massive roof in 2008. Kokiri, explains restaurateur Raymond Lee, is Korean for elephant√, his daughter's favorite animal.

Let me show you around the spa first. Men and women have separate large pool and sauna areas (check your shyness; naked is the norm), but the sexes share a communal space lined with straw mats for stretching out and surrounded by seven poultice rooms. Among them is the aforementioned Red Clay room, heated to a toasty 155 degrees; a domed Amethyst Gem room, which “revitalizes the metabolism and creates long-lasting freshness,” according to a sign; and a small cave frosted with ice on its walls. The last closes pores you may have opened elsewhere and supposedly “elimates the pain of neuralgia,” although all I wanted after a brief sit was something warm. For an extra fee, you can have your nails done, your feet buffed or your body kneaded by a masseuse who uses your back as her treadmill.

Kokiri is plenty satisfying, if not a restaurant on par with Northern Virginia’s best Korean practitioners. Its menu, with dishes displayed in photographs on yellow walls, is concise, and there are no servers, only order-takers behind a counter. But the spotless dining room offers food you are happy to see after a long soak or scrub.

One restorative, seaweed soup, teams a light beef broth with slippery green folds of seaweed. Another feel-good treatment: steamed vegetable dumplings, see-through packets filled with chopped cabbage, Chinese chives and tofu. The heartiest of the lot may be the spicy tofu soup, a bubbling cauldron thick with the expected bean curd, plus zucchini, leeks and a serious slap of chili heat.

Glazed eel on a bed of rice is too sweet for my taste, but sliced onions and jalapeos lend crunch and zip. Pale beef short ribs, or galbi, bear faint resemblance to the usual grilled marinated meat that makes Korean kitchens so popular with barbecue enthusiasts.

Bibimbap, on the other hand, is everything I want from the beloved Asian meal-in-a-bowl. Steamed rice decorated with shredded carrots, sweetly marinated beef, crisp bean sprouts, cooked watercress and a sunny-side-up egg makes me glad to have taken a dip in the pool beforehand. The ingredients are combined at the table, with the broken egg yolk serving as binder and sauce. Some like it hot, and for them, there are squeeze bottles of chili sauce nearby.

Entrees are presented with banchan, a half-dozen small salads and snacks that change daily. The assemblage of colors and textures is one reason I always look forward to a Korean meal; the parade at Kokiri runs to kimchi, sweet black soy beans, fish cakes, potato salad and dried anchovies.

A few dishes are un-Korean. Tuna with toast is for “Americans mostly,” Raymond Lee says. The entrepreneur accommodates another spa fan clientele with meat dumplings and sour cream purchased from Russian Gourmet in McLean. There are chicken wings, too, but like the Russian pelmeni, they’re not made here.

No money is exchanged. As elsewhere in the building, the restaurant uses the number on the bracelet you get when you sign in to track charges, which are settled when you throw in the towel at Spa World. So no running back to your locker and no need to tuck an AmEx in the pocket of your loungewear.

Some diners wear turbans fashioned from white towels. Everyone eats in their issued garb, and barefoot. Kokiri is not for the modest. But it’s very much for all the senses.

13830-A10 Braddock Rd., Centreville, Va. 703-815-8959 for the spa. spaworldusa.
com.

Before I could try the food at Kokiri in Centreville, Va., I had to shell out $35 at the door just to reach the restaurant.

On the way to my most recent Korean meal, I also exchanged my street clothes for a stiff yellow smock, shed my shoes, endured a take-no-prisoners sponge massage that left me with one less layer of skin (I swear!) and nodded off, briefly, in a room where a dozen strangers lay down on a shifting “floor” of thousands of hot little red clay balls. Imagine peanut M&Ms that never melt.

Kokiri, you should know, is a 50-seat dining room tucked inside the 50,000-square-foot Spa World. And Spa World, you want to know, is some of the most fun you can have with your clothes on (or off, and more on that later). A patron could make a day of exploring the sprawling, squeaky-clean complex of pools, saunas, healing rooms, gymnasium and relaxation areas.

I’m not exaggerating; much of the family-friendly Spa World is open 24-7.

Spa World and Kokiri have different owners, but they’re related: Sang Lee and Raymond Lee are brothers who opened their respective businesses under the same massive roof in 2008. Kokiri, explains restaurateur Raymond Lee, is Korean for elephant, his daughter’s favorite animal.

Let me show you around the spa first. Men and women have separate large pool and sauna areas (check your shyness; naked is the norm), but the sexes share a communal space lined with straw mats for stretching out and surrounded by seven poultice rooms. Among them is the aforementioned Red Clay room, heated to a toasty 155 degrees; a domed Amethyst Gem room, which “revitalizes the metabolism and creates long-lasting freshness,” according to a sign; and a small cave frosted with ice on its walls. The last closes pores you may have opened elsewhere and supposedly “elimates the pain of neuralgia,” although all I wanted after a brief sit was something warm. For an extra fee, you can have your nails done, your feet buffed or your body kneaded by a masseuse who uses your back as her treadmill.

Kokiri is plenty satisfying, if not a restaurant on par with Northern Virginia’s best Korean practitioners. Its menu, with dishes displayed in photographs on yellow walls, is concise, and there are no servers, only order-takers behind a counter. But the spotless dining room offers food you are happy to see after a long soak or scrub.

One restorative, seaweed soup, teams a light beef broth with slippery green folds of seaweed. Another feel-good treatment: steamed vegetable dumplings, see-through packets filled with chopped cabbage, Chinese chives and tofu. The heartiest of the lot may be the spicy tofu soup, a bubbling cauldron thick with the expected bean curd, plus zucchini, leeks and a serious slap of chili heat.

Glazed eel on a bed of rice is too sweet for my taste, but sliced onions and jalapeos lend crunch and zip. Pale beef short ribs, or galbi, bear faint resemblance to the usual grilled marinated meat that makes Korean kitchens so popular with barbecue enthusiasts.

Bibimbap, on the other hand, is everything I want from the beloved Asian meal-in-a-bowl. Steamed rice decorated with shredded carrots, sweetly marinated beef, crisp bean sprouts, cooked watercress and a sunny-side-up egg makes me glad to have taken a dip in the pool beforehand. The ingredients are combined at the table, with the broken egg yolk serving as binder and sauce. Some like it hot, and for them, there are squeeze bottles of chili sauce nearby.

Entrees are presented with banchan, a half-dozen small salads and snacks that change daily. The assemblage of colors and textures is one reason I always look forward to a Korean meal; the parade at Kokiri runs to kimchi, sweet black soy beans, fish cakes, potato salad and dried anchovies.

A few dishes are un-Korean. Tuna with toast is for “Americans mostly,” Raymond Lee says. The entrepreneur accommodates another spa fan clientele with meat dumplings and sour cream purchased from Russian Gourmet in McLean. There are chicken wings, too, but like the Russian pelmeni, they’re not made here.

No money is exchanged. As elsewhere in the building, the restaurant uses the number on the bracelet you get when you sign in to track charges, which are settled when you throw in the towel at Spa World. So no running back to your locker and no need to tuck an AmEx in the pocket of your loungewear.

Some diners wear turbans fashioned from white towels. Everyone eats in their issued garb, and barefoot. Kokiri is not for the modest. But it’s very much for all the senses.

13830-A10 Braddock Rd., Centreville, Va. 703-815-8959 for the spa. spaworldusa.
com.

Couples retreat to the spa

You first felt sparks over long dinners of Ethiopian and Indian cuisine and bonded over stories from your Peace Corps days. You're travelers, adventurers.

Luckily, you don't need a passport for a day of couples' indulgence at Spa World, which brings a bit of Korea to a Centreville strip mall. For the mani-pedi set, Spa World's half-dozen heated "poultice" rooms - each of which promises to cure what ails you with quartz, oak, salt or hot clay - aren't exactly a day at Bliss. But for you, is anything more romantic than a quiet day holding hands, sweating out toxins together in a fragrant room heated to 163 degrees?

Go in for access to all the amenities for $35 per person, and you can spend time in the co-ed heated rooms, the gym and in the separate men's and women's pools - where Korean tradition famously requires that you shed the pajamas and go au naturel. Since a Spa World stay can last several hours (the spa is open 24 hours a day), take breaks to cool off over a shared bowl of red bean shaved ice dotted with fresh kiwi and pineapple ($7), or icy mango smoothies ($4).

If you can break with your long-held "no public nudity, ever" rule, it's so worth it to treat yourself to one of the incredible Korean-style body scrubs ($50-$120; sign up in the locker room as soon as you arrive in case appointments fill up). Masseuses who administer the hour-long Scrub Special (male masseuses in the men's pool, women in the women's area) will handily slough months of wintertime neglect from your skin, slather your face in fresh cucumber, then douse you in warmed oil before spending a half-hour kneading out all your stresses - all of which can only leave you relaxed and perfectly smooth for more togetherness in the night ahead.

-- Lavanya Ramanathan, Feb. 2011