I have never met an Asian cuisine I didn’t like.
China’s diverse regions feature a wide variety of dishes ranging from hot-and-spicy lamb to delicate fish. Japan’s sushi and tempura are a light way to lunch while Vietnamese fare includes a tasty French influence. One may eat with a knife and fork at Thai restaurants as he or she enjoys the often artful creations on the plate. I always finish the carrot, turnip and radish roses.
I came to try Korean food for the first time a number of years ago when my friend Sunny, who came to Philly with her family from South Korea when she was a little girl, and I dined at Giwa on Sansom Street. She explained the importance of sauces and small dishes that complement the Korean meal.
I have walked by Wajoe a few times over the past few months before I finally got the chance to try it. It is an unassuming, bright space with a waiter who was so helpful, caring and polite that I tipped my toque right away.
Edward and I thought a light French sauvignon blanc would complement the sometimes spicy Korean fare.
Thank goodness the menu did not read like “War and Peace.” So many Asian restaurants go way too far with too many dizzying choices.
Our server brought us small dishes filled with soy sauce along with a three-compartment rectangular dish containing slightly marinated bean sprouts, a cool version of a mayonnaise-free potato salad and carrot and broccoli slices. The scoop of cool, lightly seasoned, creamy potatoes was a surprise, but one can assume America’s influenced played a part here.
I sampled the separate oval dish filled with kimchee. Vegetables were pickled and preserved to taste hot and spicy but this one did not make me reach for an antacid. It was perfectly prepared with sliced cabbage, carrots and turnips marinated with garlic and ginger that produced the right touch of heat.
Dinner began with five outstanding beef and pork dumplings ($5) obviously made with homemade noodle wrappers. The seasoned, minced beef-and-pork mix peeked through the noodles that were so thin and translucent, I could have read a newspaper through them.
I did not know a Korean pancake ($12) existed until I saw it on the menu. I like Vietnamese pancakes, so we gave this one a try. Edward and I thought it was more of an Asian pizza. It was prepared with tiny bits of fresh squid, crab, shrimp and chopped vegetables. I liked the kick the scallions gave to the mild fish. The pancake arrived on a sizzling platter and was cut into small squares for easy eating.
I have only tried Korean barbecue once before. After some back and forth we went for the short rib ($23). Our server lit the electric grill in the center of our table and brought down a long tubular exhaust.
He brought us slices of beef that were first braised on the bone and then removed. A large, thick slice of sweet onion was set in the center of the grill. He placed the sliced beef around the edge of the grill and we had fun tossing it around with our chopsticks until it was done.
A large platter of cool, crisp green oak lettuce leaves along with a bowl of shredded sweet onions and scallions covered with soy sauce and seasoning came with the barbecue.
Once the bite-size portions of short rib were done, we took a lettuce leaf, nestled in a small amount of shredded onions and scallions and topped it with the short rib. I enjoyed the combination of hot and cool temperatures in the lettuce wraps. Grilling dinner at the table was fun.
Individual bowls of steamed rice served as a fine side dish for our Korean-style barbecue dinner.
Wajoe is open for lunch and dinner.
Two-and-a-half tips of the toque to Wajoe.