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Mandu, East Dupont Circle and City Vista - Chef Danny Lee and Family's Korean

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When we were there last, Danny's mother was doing all the cooking. The family is originally from Seoul so the dishes won't be as spicy as dishes from the southern regions or as fish oriented as from the Busan area. The food is a bit bland for my personal tastes. I prefer the spicier dishes but that's me. (If you're new to Korean food, you should probably ask Grover for a recommendation and plan on going to Annandale, the home of everything Korean in Northern VA).

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(If you're new to Korean food, you should probably ask Grover for a recommendation and plan on going to Annandale, the home of everything Korean in Northern VA).

Or Dean Gold.

Mandu is probably the only Korean restaurant owned by the chef. I admire Chef Lee's elaboration and passion for cooking. Only one thing I would like to suggest her is to make seafood pancake chunky because I would like to chew something. :(

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I got to eat dinner at Mandu on K street for their soft opening on Saturday night (1/22/10). Having never been to the other Mandu, I cannot compare the two. But just evaluating this Mandu on its own merits, I think it's a great addition to this neighborhood.

We started our meal with mandu, two of each kind on the menu (beef/pork, seafood, and vegetable). I enjoyed all of them, and while the veggie was my favorite, I think my dining partner preferred the pork/beef. Nothing revolutionary but I thought these were solid mandu.

For our entrees I had the bulgogi, which is "korean bbq marinated rib-eye," and my dining partner had dduk bok gi, which is "thick rice cakes simmered in spicy chili paste w/beef, mushrooms, and onions." Between our two entrees, his was really the standout. I've had bulgogi at a few different restaurants before and we also make it fairly often at home, and this bulgogi ranked somewhere in the middle of all of those. It was very tasty but not the best I've ever had. I enjoyed it and would order it again at Mandu if I was in the mood for it, but it wasn't so incredible that I would say you HAVE to order it if you go. The dduk bok gi, on the other hand, was that good. The sauce is spicy but in a complex way, and the mushrooms and rice cakes really combine to make for a memorable dish. Also, for the price ($12), I think it's a steal. Good portion sizes on everything we ordered. Not overly huge, but you won't leave hungry.

I also tried the peach sojutini, which is not the kind of drink I would normally order but was part of the free, but limited, soft opening menu. As girly drinks go, it was actually quite delicious. If anything ending in "tini" is your thing, you'll like it. They also had Great Lakes Beer on tap which is awesome and also highly recommended.

As for the atmosphere, I thought it was very well-done. Simple, clean, modern, and definitely giving off an Asian-restaurant vibe without being tacky or cliche in any way. Medium-toned woods throughout, bright green accents, and two levels of seating (and two levels of bars I think also). I felt comfortable and relaxed, and it seems like it would be a good place to meet some friends for a night out or to bring a casual date for an interesting meal.

Overall, we really had a great time, and I would have been happy to pay full price for our experience. Service was attentive, very friendly, and efficient. Some food was better than others but on the whole, we were happy with it from start to finish and there's no doubt in my mind that we will return to this place often. No more trips to Annandale for Korean food!

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Can't comment on the larger menu, but it's a decent spot for late night munchies. Wings were unexceptional -- though Mrs. B liked them very much -- but the dumplings were lovely and the Korean tortillas were excellent. The bartender was also strikingly handsome, FWIW, and both friendly and competent. We fell into conversation with a first-date couple at the bar -- soju will do that to you. Thank God I don't have to go on first dates any more. I am eager to hear from anyone who has explored the full menu -- may be worth a journey.

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Bob and I stopped in to the K St. Mandu on Saturday afternoon (we had a Google coupon to use). As others have noted, it's a nice space, and it was encouraging to see some Korean families eating there. We stuck with the brunch menu, which is probably a safe weekend option for those unsure about Korean cooking, and it was a good value: a nicely herby omelet, peppery hash browns, zucchini pancakes, four pieces of sushi, and a nice helping of your choice of meat (in my case, bulgogi, for Bob, a bbq pork). Nothing was particularly spicy or exotic, but the portions were generous and tasty--and a good value at $13. There are surely better, more authentic Korean places out there (I'm no expert), but I'll give the place points for providing at least a pleasant experience for novices or the less adventurous.

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I guess I have mixed opinions about this place.

I've been to both locations now. I think most Korean restaurants have this ambiance that's really unpretentious. Wooden tables and benches, spacious, harsh florescent lighting, and in general you just feel like you're walking into a cafeteria. Mandu in comparison felt trendy: close, intimate, and dark. I guess that's one reason it'll do well downtown.

The first time I went to the K-Street location after a late night at Columbia Room. I was a bit inebriated so my memory is hazy. I can't remember anything special about the mandu, other than that predictably the pork ones were the best. The fried wings, while nothing like the ones you might eat at Bon Chon, were great. The pajeon was also nothing like the ones I've eaten at other Korean restaurants and in my opinion it was inferior: the seafood was minced so you didn't have any big pieces of squid or scallop or shrimp to provide a nice textural contrast. It was crunchy, that was good, but it lacked the briny taste of really good haemul pajeon.

The second time was at the 18 st location. This time we were served banchan which I found mediocre. I prefer my kimchee to be rancidly sour so these were a disappointment. The cucumber kimchee and the black beans and the eggplant were not memorable.

For some reason I got a pineapple sojutini. I have no idea why restaurants would want to use soju as a mixer. It's far too weak and my drink basically ended up tasting like pineapple juice. Mandu serve the standard Korean macro brews like OB but in my opinion these are bad, you're better off getting Kirin. But they also serve DC Brau which was a nice surprise (this is what I drank after the sojutini).

For my entree I got the ddok bok gi. The mix of bulgogi, shitake mushrooms and onions was nice but I found the sauce to be cloyingly sweet: it tasted like they just mixed in a jar of gochujang and sugar and called it a day. But it had a decent amount of heat and I enjoyed it.

I was still a little hungry so I orderd the goo jeol mari, which are crepes with vegetable/egg/beef and served with a mustard dipping sauce. This was a total miss IMO, the fillings had no flavor and the sauce wasn't good enough to compensate.

For dessert I got the standard mochi ice cream which was good, if not exactly authentic.

The prices are not bad (especially during happy hour) but I did not find the food good enough to justify a lengthy trip. I don't think 1.5 stars is too far off the mark.

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I prefer my kimchee to be rancidly sour so these were a disappointment.

Kimchi is "rancidly sour" if it's "mature". If you had asked for REALLY OLD kimchi, you would have found what you were looking for. Mrs. Lee is from Seoul, makes her kimchi often, and her kimchi reflects Seoul tastes. It's young, somewhat mild, not spicy, not overly sour.

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Against my better judgement, I joined my boyfriend and two of his co-workers for the Anju pop-up at Mandu Friday night. I'm very glad I did although I suffered for it the next morning while running the trails of Glover Park. This is a new event Mandu is planning to have every first Friday of the month. The owner, Danny Lee, plans to bring in a new chef each month to help him out. The place was already packed when we arrived shortly after 10pm, except for several tables reserved for industry folks. Our table of four ordered the following items:

Yuk Hwae (steak tartare, miso cured egg yolk) - This was one of the best dish of the evening. I really wish this was on the regular menu.

Ojinguh Hwae (chilled squid, chojang) - The squid was well cooked and the sauce gave it a good kick.

Bo Ssam (Chilled pork belly, lettuce cups) - I frequently make David Chang's version of bo ssam and while this was good, I prefer the David Chang version.

Bibim Guksoo (chilled thin noodles, kimchi, quail egg) - Another very good dish. I love noodles and these were nice, thin, and springy. Mixing kimchi with noodles was a new concept to me and I really liked it. I would happily order this again if it were on the regular menu.

Ramen Ja Jang (fresh ramen noodles, black bean paste) - Others at the table liked this dish more than I did. The black bean paste was very intense and salty and really took over the dish, overpowering the ramen noodles.

Kimchi Bokum Bap (fried rice, kimchi butter, bacon) - What is not to like about this dish? Not fancy, not authentic, and not really unique but very good.

Budae Jjigae (fresh ramen noodles, spam, andouille, rice cakes, kimchi broth) - A spicy stew with lots of stuff in it, this was my favorite dish of the evening. I wish I didn't have to share it. Also, my first time eating spam!

Sujebi (dashi broth, hand torn potato dough flakes, potato, kelp) - A very interesting soup that provided a very different contrast the the jjigae. This was delicate and smooth whereas the jjigae was very much in your face. I especially enjoyed the dashi broth.

Since Mandu was packed, the kitchen was backed up and we had to wait a bit for the two soups. Service was a bit slow as I think they were understaffed, a problem that will hopefully be corrected the next Anju. We also had six drinks between the four of us at the table. All of that food + drinks + tax + tip = $34 per person. I'm really glad I went and I'm looking forward to going again!

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