Hours: 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Monday; 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., Tuesday through Friday; noon to 2 a.m., Saturday and Sunday.
Atmosphere: Plain but pleasant; dance floor and band in rear of restaurant opens nightly (except Monday) at 9.
Price range: Entrees, $4.95 to $7.95
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard.
Special facilities: Parking lot in rear of restaurant; one step to negotiate for those in wheelchairs; highchairs and booster seats available; dancing nightly except Monday, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
It was not long ago that one could learn everything there was to know about Oriental food in Washington by going to a neighborhood Chinese restaurant and choosing one from column A and one from column B. Then Vietnamese and Thai restaurants began to diversify the international flavor of Washington.
Although Korean restaurants are not widespread here, there are a few. One is Washington House, a year-old restaurant on Columbia Pike.
When we looked at the menu, we realized that many ingredients in Korean cooking, and certainly the names of several dishes, were recognizable. There were egg rolls and won ton soup, teriyaki and sweet and sour pork.
The differences in this cuisine come in textures and flavors, the use of some truly incendiary spices and the presentation of the food. We liked practically everything we were served, and even our 10-year-old daughters, who are categorically oppposed to trying things they have not seen advertised on TV, thought the dinner a success.
Unlike many Asian restaurants, Washington House does not serve dishes family-style. Since we wanted to share and sample food, we asked the waitress to bring extra plates, which she graciously did.
We began with our favorite soups: won-ton, egg drop and hot soup. Made with stock more flavorful than Chinese versions, the won-ton and egg drop were equally delicious. The hot soup was fiery with chili oil, and should be accompanied by tall glasses of ice water, but my husband thought it better than anything else in the meal.
For entrees we ordered bulgogi and chapche, $7.95; chicken teriyaki, $7.95; sweet and sour pork, $7.95; charcoaled short ribs, $8.50; and Korean-style vegetables, $1.
There is no children's menu, but most kids could be fed reasonably on egg rolls, $2, and soup, $1.25, or by sharing with other family members, as ours did.
Sweet and sour pork was an especially large serving and easily could be split. Unlike some versions we have tasted, it was not cloyingly sweet, and our girls liked it very much.
What we all preferred, though, were the grilled meats: the bulgogi, thin slices of delightfully seasoned beef, lightly grilled and still juicy; charcoaled short ribs, plainer in flavor, but cooked to similar juiciness and tenderness; and the chicken, boned and flattened to a filet and grilled in a slightly sweet teriyaki sauce. Bowls of white rice accompanied dinner.
Side dishes were interesting and different. Chapche, which accompanies several entrees, would make a delicious dinner itself. It is a delicately seasoned melange of cellophane noodles, slivered and sauteed beef, green pepper and other vegetables. The Korean vegetable platter consisted of spinach, cooked so lightly it retained its natural flavor, and two other dishes more like refreshing marinated salads.
One of these, a bean sprout dish, was marinated in light seasonings and tasted crunchy and fresh. Two varieties of kimchi were also served. The first and more commonly available version is crisp chunks of marinated lettuce, which refreshes the palate after highly seasoned food. The second version was greens braised in chilis fierce enough to clear your sinuses.
There were a few drawbacks. The pork in the sweet and sour was not well trimmed and yielded some gristle and fat. The chicken was a very small serving, especially compared to the portions of marinated beef for the same price. Cokes were overpriced at $1 for a small, ice-choked glass.
But on the whole, we enjoyed our experiment with Korean food at Washington House. Our bill for five, with tax and tip, was $57.50.