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Nov 19, 2008 07:00 AM

Ara in Annandale

Ara is a fairly new Korean place in Annandale on 236 near the Kmart plaza intersection. It advertises itself as a "Fusion Restaurant Karaoke Bar" We were dining at lunch time on a Sunday, so the place was fairly empty. I imagine it is pretty noisy on weekend evenings as the karaoke goes full swing.

The interior is attractive, with dark wooden tables. We noticed a few semi-private rooms with curtains. There is a fairly extensive lunch menu offered 7 days a week that runs towards soups, which should be a good match for our raw November weather. The 38 lunch specials run from 3.99 to 8.99. Some of the more interesting non-soup options were grilled fish for $6.99 (your choice of 3 kinds of mackerel), a Crab Noodle Soup which was pictured served with a whole blue crab on top, and the "Old Style Bento" which is depicted as spicy, and evidently comes with steamed rice, pan-fried kimchi, frank and egg.

Banchan came out in personal servings on trendy little plates that held three items. The first was a lightly seasoned cucumber, the second a very mild kimchi, and the third a seaweed salad. The attentive waitstaff provided a full replacement when one of us finished theirs quickly. We also got a communal tupperware container of crispy seaweed strips. The chowpup claimed them all and used them to scoop up her rice.

We ordered the grilled pork belly which came with a very generous portion of sliced jalepenos and grilled kimchi. At $12.99, it was a huge bargain. Ara does not appear to use table-top grills, so the platter came right from the kitchen.

We also got the Seafood Okonomiyaki at $16.99, listed as a two person serving. This came out as a large pizza-shaped concoction, totally covered in bonito shavings, which moved from the heat of the dish. Some people might find that a bit disturbing. Underneath was a mix of seafood and flour pancake, with a bit too much mayo for my taste. Unlike the seafood pancakes we often get at Korean places, this one was only crispy on the bottom; it was soft on the top, more like a pizza. Splitting this among 4 people would have been more appropriate. We'll have to try the crispy rice pizza on another visit.

We had the Fried Squid Legs, which were served with a wasabi mayo. These were good, and the legs were larger than I'd expected.

Naomi had a richly flavored chicken and noodle soup which was a special listed on the wall.

We'll be back. Both Ara and Hee Been cross-advertise for each other via posters inside; turns out they're owned by cousins.

7137D Little River Turnpike, Annandale

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  1. Thread starter must have eaten lunch here and walked right over to Dolce for dessert :P

    anyways, Ara is the new hotspot for young Asians these days. I came here one night, and it was BANANAS. the WHOLE venue was basically PACKED. hiphop music playing. lots of girls dressed up like theyre going clubbing.

    So basically Ara has several identities as:

    1) restaurant
    3)karaoke rooms/private party


    I'd say anytime from lunch to 8 or 9 is fine..Luckily, non-party hours they tone down the hiphop music and replace it with quieter..and it feels like a very trendy looking restaurant.

    As for the food itself:

    Ara boasts an array of UNIQUE dishes that I have not seen in korean restaurants before.
    Like the thread starter, I have tried the okonomiyaki...and mmmmm it's wonderful with a bottle of soju. Likewise the deep fried squid legs with wasabi mayo is good food to eat with drinks. I also enjoy the various stews that they have.. My favorite being the one where they serve a huge pot of red kimchi soup with various sausages, veggies, and the ramen noodles.

    Thumbs Up for ARA, especially if you want a place where you can drink and have good Korean/Fusion food.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Steph80

      Squids got legs???? Is that the other end of the squid from the calamari rings?

      1. re: MikeR

        Squids do have legs, and yes, honestly im not too sure exactly what position it is in relation to calamari rings. However ill tell you that the deep fried squid legs at ARA are definetely a good dish to eat with some alcohol. I believe they are at the other end though

        1. re: Steph80

          Biologically speaking, the tentacles are not legs. The body is a long tube, which is closed at one end. It is emptied of innards and sliced to become rings. At the open end of the tube, the head is attached, which, visually, is predominately tentacles. Since squid use them to move around, they are analogous to legs. However, they also use them to wave food into their mouths, so they are analogous to arms. The tentacles are covered with little suction cups, but they are not analogous to plumber's helpers. They use them to hold on to things.

          I guess I can see why a menu might call them legs. I personally do not like them large. They are best when tiny, as are the tubes. They are exquisite in Sicily.

          1. re: bacchante

            I merely quote the menu, which states "Deep fried squid leg served with wasabi mayo." This is probably to distinguish it from the "Wasabi Sauce Calamari" which may just be rings.

            I don't understand why some restaurants have started serving only rings and eliminated the tentacles. Those are usually the best part.

            F12, the Korean Traditional Pancake, is a "variety of Korean traditional pancakes. (beef patty, white fish, tuna, pepper w/beef, sesame leaf w/beef, squish.)" I assume that last is squid.

            1. re: PollyG

              I find the combos to be a pretty good deal.
              The breaded and fried pork there is also pretty good.

              One thing that is ironic but I really enjoyed was the traditional korean lunch box. It comes in a hot metal container. The stuff you get are rice, sausage, a fried egg, and hot kimchi.. Im guessing the heated container simultaneously cooks the food inside. Not bad.

              1. re: PollyG

                "I don't understand why some restaurants have started serving only rings and eliminated the tentacles. Those are usually the best part."

                Probably difference in cultures. I've had whole baby squids, maybe 4 inches from the end of the body to the end of the tentacles, but when they get much bigger than that, it's probably easier to market in pieces. Some cultures like rings, some cultures like strings. I'm really more of a ring man myself.

                And yes, I know about tentacles. I was just kidding about the "legs." I like squish, really I do. ;)