Herndon finally has a real Korean restaurant. Within the last 2 weeks, Yee Hwa opened at 645 Elden Street, formerly home of the short-lived Chayote Grill.
We used to live in Alexandria's West End, a 5 minute drive to Hee Been and an easy hop to the more western regions of Annandale's Korean restaurant zone. Since moving out to the wilds of Herndon, we have had severe Korean withdrawal.
No more. After dinner at Yee Hwa tonight, I'm pleased to tell you all that there is real Korean food to be had in Herndon, and it ranks right up there with the better Annandale offerings.
We started with (Note: exact names on menus may vary, I'm using my Korean cookbook for dish names here. Go with my English description.) Nak Ji Pan Jon, which is the classic Korean scallion pancake with seafood. In this case, it was octopus and shrimps. The Yee Hwa version was very generous in serving size and cut into squares rather than into wedges as is often the case. The pancake was a little thicker than some other versions we've had and it was also less oily. The scallion was surprisingly understated in the flavor, particularly considering just how much of it was in the pancake.
We then had ojingo bokum, which is squid and vegetables, stir-fried in a hot pepper sauce. Our waitress did warn us that "that's very hot," but desisted when we grinned and said, "we know." Actually, it was about perfect on the heat side for us. It was hot enough to be fairly assertive on the palate, but not so hot that it extinguished the taste of the squid, and the heat didn't linger too long.
Next came our kalbi, cooked at the table. The menu had three different options for kalbi, one in cubes, one on the bone, and one unmarinated. We opted for the cubes. The cubes came with the traditional plate of big lettuce leaves and the little dish of hot bean paste. You wrap the cooked meat with a little bean paste (and sometimes some rice) in the lettuce leaf and make a wrap of it. This was very good, although it wasn't served with the additional accompanyment of thin-sliced scallion slivers marinated in sesame oil as it is elsewhere. A shame, as that goes very well in the wraps.
We were served 8 panchan, the little pickled dishes you eat as part of your meal. For once, we didn't receive the dreaded potato salad that so many Korean places like to include in the panchan assortment for Westerners. We had several classics: kim chi, watercress, and cabbage water pickle. The remainder were less common dishes and included three different fish (alas, our daughter turned her nose up at the smoky fish in fried egg that was profferd particularly for her)and another pickled green. As I understand it, the number of panchan is an indication of both the status of the restaurant and the guest. We've had as few as 3 panchan at some of the divier places in the region, as many as an even dozen at Hee Been, where we were pretty regular diners. I'd have to say that Yee Hwa is weakest on its panchan, but that opinion could change by my next meal, since better Korean restaurants seem to rotate many of their panchan, keeping only a few of the fundamental classics in the "always on" position.
At the end, we were served soo jeung kwa, which is an ice-cold sweet persimmon/ginger/cinnamon tea with a few pine nuts. We've had this before, but again only at the more upscale Korean places.
The interior of the restaurant is upscale for Korean, meaning that it has nicely varnished wood panels, an open, airy feel, and the tables are not crowded together. People who are leery of trying Korean food would feel fairly comfortable upon entering. This is by no means a dive and we expect to take our 60-something parents here. Many of the cooktop tables are 4-seaters and I noticed a more private function room in the back.
Service was a little slow at first, but the waitstaff gets major kudos for being attentive to the 4 year-old chowpup. She not only got kid-rigged chopsticks, but also they made a dive for her as we left and helped pick the stray rice off her legs. Now *that's* service.