Galbi, kimchi, soju, soondubu, bibimbap and samgyeopsal. These are some and maybe the only things that come to your mind when you think about Korean food. While all of those foods (and sole drink) I mentioned above are tasty delights, Korean cuisine is so much more. Still interested in branching out from the stereotypical spicy, stinky cabbage and BBQ associated with this peninsula's food?
Enter: Woo Nam Jeong. Located on Buford Highway, it's a relative newcomer to the scene run by a couple of elderly folk. They started out by specializing in various bibimbaps and targeting the local Korean businessmen for lunch and within months time, business started to pick up. Their popularity started to grow within the Korean community and word of mouth started to spread on food sites such as Yelp. I've been to this place a few times now and I've enjoyed their foods although they're a little pricier than the other Korean restaurants in town. So when I heard about their new 12 course meal showing off what Korean cuisine offers, there was no way I could turn down a revisit.
The interior is real clean and simple - not too traditional and not too modern. It's a great place to grab a bite with the family or meet up with some colleagues after work. Late night BBQ and drinks? Not so much. The waitresses are friendly but they're rather hit or miss on being attentive. Food can be slow coming out because there's limited help in the kitchen but one of the owners will usually come by to say hello and see how you're doing. Before I get started with the 12 course feast, let me describe (and show pictures of) some of their other menu items.
Their bibimbap is good but if you want great bibimbap, go with their spicy pork variety. All the great namul and condiments associated with bibimbap, fried egg, crunchy/burnt rice at the bottom and topped off with spicy pork. It's a combination made in heaven. Their bossam is also pretty good although it's rather pricey and it's accompanied by spicy pork as well. All of the meals are capped off with soojunggwa which is a traditional cinnamon spiced drink. Also, Woo Nam Jeong has some of the best banchans I've eaten in Atlanta (this coming from a guy that hates making such statements). Clean, simple and tasty sides that aren't filled with MSG or reused.
Now, onto this daunting 12 course meal. At $59.99 for two, it's filled with traditional and modern Korean cuisine. From congee and pollock to Korean fried chicken, this menu takes you on a culinary journey of Korean foods you may have never experienced before. I'll try to write both Korean and English translated names and link to their wiki pages if possible. Ready? Let's get started...
1st Course - Jat Jook (잣죽, Pine Nut Porridge)
A real simple, clean, tasty porridge. It's topped off with pine nuts and bits of sweet jujube for some texture and additional flavor. The porridge is what Koreans like to call 고소하다. I'm not sure if this flavor really has an English translation but it's often associated with roasted sesame seeds and the closest translation I can offer you is "toasty". Accompanying the porridge was an equally impressive vinegary raddish soup.
2nd Course - Jeon (전, Pan Fried Korean Squash)
It's a Korean squash that's been coated with batter and lightly fried in oil. It's crispy but the squash still retains texture so there's a little bite to it. The red stuff on top of the jeon is sliced red peppers and parsley has been windowpaned. The sauce that comes with the jeon is the traditional soy sauce, gochugaru mixture. The squash is bland by itself but that's what the sauce is for numbnut! Really great stuff and it reminded me of what my grandma would make as a banchan to accompany our meals.
3rd Course - Kamaboko Jjim (Fish Cake w/ Ground Beef Stuffing)
Kamaboko (essentially fish cake) is sliced and steamed ground beef is placed in between. The beef is perfectly seasoned with a delicious umami flavor from the soy sauce. Accompanying the fish cake is an egg stuffed with a trio of carrots, spinach and ground beef that's wrapped around nori. Good stuff.
4th Course - Daehap Jjim (Steamed Clam w/ Scallops, Shrimp, Egg, Ground Beef)
A steamed clam filled with a medley of proteins. On top, divided by a line of parsley, are boiled egg whites and yolks with the scallop, shrimp and ground beef mixture underneath. One of my favorite dishes of the evening. Great umami flavor, delicious and generous on the stuffing.
5th Course - Grilled Shrimp Kabob (Vegetables, Spicy Sauce)
This is where we started getting into some of the more modern stuff. This is by no means traditional and I would consider this a fusion dish. The shrimp kabob is sauced with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce that's often attributed with Korean fried chicken. It didn't really stand out compared to the other dishes but it was still pretty good. Shrimp was juicy and the vegetables still had some bite to it which I really enjoyed.
6th Course - Galbi Jjim (Beef Short Ribs)
...oh what the @&%#?! This thing is huge man. I'm talking Rosie O'Donnell big. It's one big ass piece of short rib and it's going to make you happy. The beef is so tender, it literally melts in your mouth. It's topped off with egg strips, red peppers, mushrooms and carrots. The vegetables by themselves are quite salty but when you combine them with that luscious, velvety short rib, it's a magical f***ing combination. Hands down my favorite dish of the evening.
7th Course - Fried Pollock w/ Spicy Sauce
Pollock is pretty popular in Korea and at Woo Nam Jeong it's fried, sauced with the classic soy sauce/gochugaru mixture and sliced egg strips. It's one of the cheaper whitefish and I still remember eating this in soup growing up. Crisp and crunchy outside, flaky and tender fish inside - it's pretty good. Not the most memorable dish but it was well executed. Hey speaking of that soup...
Bonus Course - Bookuh Gook (Dried Pollock Soup)
I hated this stuff growing up because of the tough, dry fish. It's dried pollock (or any other dried white fish) with scallions, eggs and bean sprouts. Of course, I've grown used to eating it and I don't mind it anymore. I found the soup to be a little bland but the bean sprouts made the hot soup really refreshing. Hey it's free - I'll take it.
8th Course - Yang Nyum Chicken (양념 치킨, Korean Fried Chicken)
It's Korean fried chicken man. What? You've never had or heard of Korean fried chicken? I even shared my secret family recipe with you earlier this year! It's fried chicken that's smothered with a sweet and spicy sauce. Woo Nam Jeong's version was okay but I've been living off my mom's recipe for so long that it just didn't do it for me. Don't get me wrong - it was good but my mom's KFC is something I would want to eat on death row. It's sweet with a slight kick from the spice and the sesame seeds give it an interesting toasty flavor. Not bad at all.
9th Course - Haepari Naengchae (해파리냉채, Cold Jellyfish w/ Noodles)
I bet you didn't think Koreans ate jellyfish did you? This dish is served cold in a hot mustard sauce. The trick here is to take it slow. If you eat, say, more than 1 jelly fish at a time, you'll feel that painful (yet oh so delicious) sting and clearing of the nostrils. If you've never had this before, it does have a weird texture. It's gelatinous and crunchy at the same time. I enjoyed the texture of it but it may not be for everyone.
Bonus Course - Braised Crab in Soy Sauce
The second bonus course of the night. It was a little too salty for my preference but I still enjoyed the first few bites. Minor corrections in seasoning should make for a great dish.
10th Course - Gujeolpan (구절판, Wrapped Medly of Vegetable, Meat, Seafood)
This is a traditional Korean food that's often associated with royal cuisine. This dish, regardless of how it's adapted is always made with 9 ingredients (coming from gu which is 9 in Korean). I really enjoyed Woo Nam Jeong's preparation. Simple, clean flavors and the thin pancake surrounding everything was so soft and tender. The sauce accompanying the gujeolpan was a soy and hot mustard mixture. Another one of my favorite dishes of the night.
11th Course - Hwajeon (화전, Rice Cake)
A play on this traditional rice cake (a type of tteok) fried and decorated with jujube and parsley instead of flowers. I really enjoyed this dessert. Crispy on the outside with a soft and chewy inside. The flowers weren't missed and the simple syrup spooned over the rice cake was delicious. Not too sweet and chewy - a flavor/texture combination that Asians really like.
12th Course - Sujeonggwa (수정과, Cinnamon Drink)
A classic, Korean drink that's often served at the end of the meal. It has a strong cinnamon flavor and it's usually accompanied by dried persimmons and pine nuts. There's also a slight ginger flavor giving a little zing and oomph to the drink. Woo Nam Jeong's version was really dark but pretty heavy on the cinnamon. Not the best rendition I've ever had but I was pleased that it wasn't overly sweet. Still, a good way to end my meal.
Of course, the chef and proprietor grandma came out just before the 11th course to see how we were doing. At an age where she should be retired, she works hard everyday from morning till late in the night to prepare homemade dishes for her patrons. I asked her why she chose to open a restaurant and feature an elaborate Korean menu that no one else in Atlanta is doing. Her response was that "It's fun to do".
While the course menu could use some improvements on presentation (ie. excessive parsley decoration), progression and cohesiveness, the food itself is spot on. It's really delicious stuff that displays Korean food isn't just about BBQ and kimchi. Even if you opt out of the 12 course meal and go with their regular menu items, you can still expect great tasting food. I know Woo Nam Jeong is more expensive compared to a lot of other Korean places around that area but when you consider the quality of food and care put into each dish, the extra few dollars seems well spent.
- The set menu is available for odd # groups. Just talk to your waitress
- Menu items didn't come out in the numerical order as listed. Don't be alarmed, you'll get everything.
*Note - I know the owners personally but I don't let that influence my reviews - you either have good food/service or you don't. I know for a fact from going back into the kitchen and talking to the grandma that this establishment doesn't use MSG in any of their dishes and they do not reuse banchan