Dinner Deals | Meals Under $15

Review: Gamasot Korean Restaurant in Springfield

By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 2008

At a glance: I cannot lie. At a glance, I was clueless: white, jellylike slices in a small dish with soy sauce, pickled cabbage cut up with scissors at the table with chilies on top, a basket of iceberg lettuce and warm yellow water in a clear glass. "What is all this?" I wondered. "Is this what we ordered?"

What I would learn on my second visit to Gamasot, this time with my Korean friend, is that this is a typical Korean restaurant. The small plates served before your meal are called panchan. You eat them family style with your main meal. (Double dipping is okay here.) The jellylike substance is called dotorimuk and is made of acorn starch. The pickled cabbage is kimchee. And in the lettuce, you wrap the meat from your main dish, if you desire. The yellow water? That's tea, served instead of ice water. Aha. Now I felt more comfortable.

Gamasot sits in a strip mall lit with fluorescent "Open" signs in the windows of a number of international dining options. The atmosphere inside the restaurant is lovely. Hardwood floors and paneling give way to a big glass window looking into the small kitchen, where bowls and glasses are neatly stacked around big pots of boiling water. Asian-themed paintings hang on the wall. There is also a large space where diners can eat sitting on the floor on mats.

On the menu: Like many urbanites, I am a fan of Asian food. I like pad Thai and panang gai, fried rice and won ton soup. But the Korean food at Gamasot is less Americanized than at other Asian joints. For example, here the kitchen serves soon dae, or blood sausage. It's kind of like the Korean version of a hot dog. It's sausage made of pig's blood, rice and noodles. It is black, and the consistency is chewy and a little bland. Dip the pieces in a bowl of salt with red pepper for more flavor. This is a great dish for a curious eater.

Soup is Gamasot's specialty, and a large portion of the menu reflects this. They are known for their sul leung tang, which is beef and noodles in a thick, milky broth. Look for it and other soups on the first page of the menu under "entrees." (The restaurant name refers to the big pot used to cook broth.) These are hearty dishes with a variety of ingredients served in big bowls as meals.

For a spicy dish, try the yook gae jang. It's beef and noodles in a beef broth with red pepper and chili powder, giving it a red color. The dish is hearty and full of flavor and heat.

The gop dor bi bim bap comes in a very hot stone bowl with noodles, rice, beef, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli and mushrooms with a sunny-side-up egg on top. It is served with a hot sauce on the side that has the consistency of ketchup and adds a lot of flavor. Mix it all up so you get a taste of everything in one bite.

Be aware that some dishes are served cold even though that is not specified on the menu. The bi bim naeng myun is such a dish and is made of very thin, threadlike buckwheat noodles, flavored with a spicy chili sauce. The noodles are so long that the waitress cuts them into your bowl before serving. It comes in a metal dish with beef, cucumber, a big slice of Asian pear and a hard-boiled egg. Add the spicy mustard, and mix the whole thing up. Once you get past the fact that you are eating cold noodles, it is a tasty and filling meal.

If you're a little less adventurous, the sa gohr duck mandoo gook may be a good choice. It's beef and pork dumplings in broth, and it is closer to standard Asian fare.

At your service: Everyone is very nice. However, don't expect the servers to help you figure out what to order. They speak very little English.

What to avoid: I wasn't a fan of the galbi tang, one of the soups, which was ribs in a broth. The beef was bland, and the whole dish was not as interesting as the other choices.

Wet your whistle: You're here trying new things so you might as well try the dongdong ju, a slightly sweet milky rice wine that is a popular Korean drink. I also noticed a few diners drinking soju, a hard, clear alcohol that comes in what looks like a beer bottle. Couples ordered one and shared it, pouring it into two small mugs. Soda is available, too.

Bottom line: Bring your sense of adventure and your flexible palate with you. Gamasot does not appear to be trying to woo new eaters to Korean food by serving watered-down Korean plates. The restaurant tries to remain authentic. This is a great place to eat outside your comfort zone and experience a new type of food.

Gamasot 6963-C Hechinger Dr., Springfield Phone: 703-256-0780 Hours: Daily 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Prices: Appetizers $10.95-$12.95, entrees $9.95-$24.95 (for a platter) Wheelchair access: One step up

© 2008 The Washington Post Company