As much as I love Living Social and Groupon deals, sometimes the power of persuasion causes me to buy deals for restaurants I wouldn't normally patronize on my own. Sometimes that's a good thing, other times, not so much. Forsaking the myriad All-You-Can-Eat BBQ joints that dot the landscape of Koreatown, we headed to the Beverly Hills branch of Korean BBQ chain Woo Lae Oak to use a deal coupon for a quick weekend lunch. While it was a pleasant enough experience when considered in isolation, it doesn't really stack up against K-Town's best deals, even with the discounted check.
The interior is the exact opposite of virtually every other Korean BBQ restaurant I've been to since I moved here - huge, sparse, and a little cold. Instead of the frantic bustling of harried staff and noisy families and large groups, the vibe during the lunch hour at Woo Lae Oak Beverly Hills was calm, almost serene. Mark and I could actually hear each other speaking in conversational tones.
We prepared ourselves for the parade of complimentary banchan. The only item that made much of an impression on me was a simple salad of lettuce tossed in a tasty, tangy sesame dressing.
The rest of the little dishes fell squarely in the mediocre category - I've had better and I've had worse. The kimchi was particularly disappointing, having neither the vinegariness nor the spice level I've come to expect from my pickled cabbage. The one thing that Woo Lae Oak does have over its cheaper counterparts over in K-Town is that the servers were more than attentive, never allowing a banchan dish to sit empty more than a few moments before asking us if we wanted more.
Before moving onto the meat portion of the meal, I decided to sample a traditional Korean favorite, kimchi chi ge, or spicy kimchi stew with pork and tofu (below). Given that the kimchi wasn't as pungent as I prefer, I figured the stew wouldn't be quite up to my standards. But it was still probably my favorite part of the meal - hearty and flavorful, with silky cubes of tofu soaking up the slightly spicy broth.
We also sampled one of the hot appetizers, the dak nal ke jorim, or spicy chili-glazed free range chicken drumettes. These had a decent amount of kick, and the little meat that was on the bone was pretty juicy. But for $12, I wanted more.
For our BBQ items, we ordered half orders of the kal bi (boneless short rib, below, right) for $13 and the ta jo (ostrich, below, left) for $12.
The quality of the meat was very good, although I probably wouldn't order the ostrich again - it was so lean and sliced so thin that it was quick to overcook and become tough. The kal bi, sliced thicker with more fat marbled throughout, fared better on the grill.
Due to the refilling of our banchan, the amount of meat we got for our money was more than enough to satisfy us. But I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that I could stuff myself silly with similar quality meat for the same price with just a 20-minute drive east.