woo lae oak
170 north la cienega blvd.
beverly hills, ca 90211
seoul searching no. 6: where not to go for korean food in l.a.
For korean food, I only ever go to K-town or to Mom’s, and I’m not even a native korean. But with the combination of requests for “hahn-sik” (Korean food), “joh-eun boon-ae-gi” (a good atmosphere, or basically, not a hole in the wall) and “ga-gga-wuh” (close) enough so that my grandmother, with her bad knees and circulation, wouldn’t have to sit in a cramped car for too long, we ended up at Woo Lae Oak on La Cienega. My grandmother thought this was a fine choice, but she figured out after dinner that Woo Lae Oak here in LA is very different from Woo Lae Oak in Seoul.
I hadn’t been to the beverly hills branch, and it had been years since i had dined at the koreatown location on western avenue (which, incidentally, is now closed). now i remember why. it’s clean, serene, and pretty inside, but you pay for the decor and ambience. they charge up the yin yang for just barely mediocre galbi and other grill items and the typical array of complimentary bahn-chan that crowds a korean table was missing. instead, you can order them off the menu. the food is very westernized – kimchi is not as spicy; marinades for galbi and bulgogi are sweeter; noodles are softer, without the natural chew of buckwheat; broths taste like they’ve been made by adding water to a dry mix.
the servers were lovely eye-candy: obviously actors-by-day, tall, athletic, but non-asian. and except for our family, there were no other korean people in the restaurant. that’s always a sign. or a warning.
perhaps it’s a good place to go to introduce non-asians to korean food. then again, maybe not – it just wouldn’t really be a true reflection of what korean food is really like.
rating out of 5: food = 2, experience = 3, overall = 2
i wouldn’t go back. unless of course, my grandmother comes back for a visit.