Anyone tried Mandu yet?
I am interested in going, but my boyfriend is skeptical of any Korean outside of Annandale.
I went to Mandu last night as a solo diner in search of a simple weeknight meal, so I didn't get to try more than one menu offering. But I did get enough sense of the place that I think it is a nice addition to the neighborhood.
I had a desire for kimchi stew (kimchi jigae) so I walked 10 minutes from my home to the restaurant. The small bar (7 stools) had some activity of men in their late 20s-early 30s engaged in lively conversation, but chose a table in the small dining room (there is a second level with more seating, but it was closed on a non-busy night).
Let me get right to the menu, and what I write here is a result of a conversation I had with the owner, a young Korean-American named Danny. The menu features dishes that are typically cooked at home. In fact, it is Danny's mother who is in charge in the kitchen. The 10 (or so) Main dishes include hearty soups and stews, namely the kimchi stew and a spicy beef soup (what I ultimately chose), flavored with green onion and leeks and containing thick strands of kalbi (shortrib meat). The menu and staff indicated that it is the hottest item on the menu, but I could have had it hotter by a notch or two. The Kimchi stew, I was told, is not served bubbling in the traditional clay pot, but is served in a small tureen.
Main dishes include bi bim bop and dol sot bi bim bop (9.95 and 11.95 respectively). Danny said the reason there are no clay pots for the kimchi stew is that they are all used for the dol sot bi bim bop, and storage space is limited. I observed a couple at another table ordering either the grilled bulgoki or kalbi, which are the highest priced items at $21-$22, and they are cooked in kitchen and served sizzling on a cast-iron platter. Reminded me of fajitas. I didn't see the traditional lettuce but maybe they have it.
The panchan consisted of string bean segments in sesame, picled sweet and pungent cucumber slices, marinated black seaweed squares, and of course the kimchi. The kimchi is very fresh tasted as if it was left to "ferment" for 2 days most. It was red with red pepper powder, but the heat was mild, and the garlic was tame. This is a good kimchi for those who don't like the stronger variety. Danny said his mother makes batches nearly every day, and it sits in a dark room for up to the three days. This is typical of the kimchi found in most households. No -- she doesn't bury the kimchi jar out back behind the restaurant -- as Danny mentioned something about rats.
I didn't have a notepad with me so I can't remember other things on the menu, but I do remember chop chae and a nice assortment of appetizers (which I rarely get because of the Panchan).
By the way, I liked the spicy beef soup very much. It was served with rice, which I ate with the leftover broth. The australian shiraz I drank by the glass ($6.50) was also very good -- the vineyard is called Mandu incidentally -- one that I wouldn't mind buying a few bottles of.
So, Caphill, Mandu is not a substitute the Annandale Korean BBQ joints, but it is nice alternative, and the prices are moderate enough for a simple weeknight meal. However, if you live on Capital Hill, you might find that you can drive down 395 to Little River Turnpike just as fast as you can make your way to 18th Street NW. Depending on the "demographic" you like, I think it might attract the same types of customers who like Rice on 14th NW. But Mandu is less pricy and so far the menu is not "fabulous," but comforting.
Rice's menu has a solid Thai foundation, but it gets more creative. I've only been there once, but my dinner companions that night (about 8 of us) were experienced Rice-hounds. I can't remember what I had, but I liked everything very much. A little more expensive than your usual Thai place, but it's looking for an urban hip clientele. Evidenced by their martini menu.
If you do try Rice, be sure to walk up and down 14th street if you haven't been to that area recently. It is in constant flux and there are new things to discover.
I'm not sure Mandu has things that do not appear on most of the Annandale menus. But they are probably prepared slightly differently, and you might attempt to try something that you've never had before. Nice thing is that the servers, most of whom are asian, speak english as a first language, and they explain everything very well. I find that I get absolutely nowhere when I ask about the food in the traditional Korean restaurants. In fact, the women servers usually steer me away from most of the things I ask about. They probably think I wouldn't like it.
I see...it's just that when we trek out to Annandale, we usually are craving the bbq and never have room to try any of the other dishes. Since this is closer, we might be more inclined to branch out a little.
Chownut, i totally agree about not mentioning rats! Since my bf is deathly afraid, I think I will leave that part out.
You have to try their aloe cocktail! They make a few cocktails with soju and other ingredients (mandarin, grape sac, aloe) and they're all really good. I was there and had the bi bim bop and veggie mandu and will definitely go again to sample othr things on the menu.