All you need is a pair of chopsticks (or desired utensil of choice), an ice-cold glass of water and an empty stomach to enjoy the exquisite Korean and Japanese dining experience that is Palace.
Walking into this place, I can almost call it home: the furniture is a dark oak wood, hardcover books fill the shelves and plants line the walls. There’s even a fireplace. It all makes for a warm glow in which to enjoy the upcoming meal, which will most often include the restaurant’s famous Korean barbecue.
Palace is one of those versatile places that can do both casual and fancy. It’s great for parties (there’s a spacious room in the back for large gatherings, banquets, etc.) or just a simple dinner for two that’s well worth the average $20 you’ll pay per person. You won’t feel out of place in jeans and a t-shirt, but it wouldn’t hurt to dress up a little and slip into a skirt or pair of khakis.
The appetizer menu has such a wide variety of goods that it might be hard to make a choice at first glance. If you’re looking for something light, try the seaweed soup ($3) or a five-count plate of gyoza ($6), a combination beef, pork and vegetable dumpling. These pan-fried delicacies are flatter than their Chinese cousins but are just as delicious, if not more so, striking the perfect balance of crisp-yet-light. And if their taste wasn’t already good enough, they are also beautifully arrayed in a spiral shape on the dish. Dip them in a light vinegar sauce to taste, but be careful not to splash your neighbor.
At a Korean restaurant, you can’t go wrong with Korean barbecue, especially bulk-al-bi (beef short rib, $22) or bul-go-ki (finely sliced beef, $20), the restaurant’s most popular dish. The bulk-al-bi is marinated with a special sauce and remains especially tender as to melt in your mouth. The bul-go-ki is thinner and leaner. If you order at least two orders of barbecue, you’ll have the privilege of watching the ingredients become food right before your eyes. In that case, the waiter or waitress will set up a portable grill next to your table on which your food will grill to perfection.
If you’re a meat-lover, you’re set, and if not, don’t worry. Along with the barbecued meat comes a fleet of side dishes, mostly vegetable, some spicy, some not. A few include kimchee — a spicy cabbage (this is where the ice water comes in), a stack of watercress, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and a couple others served on tiny platters. And rice too, of course, in a tin vessel with a matching lid.
If you find that Korean barbecue isn’t quite to your taste, there’s a whole territory of Japanese cuisine still left uncharted. Try the salmon teriyaki ($16), which comes served on a hotplate and decorated with onion confetti. They also have udon, a thick Japanese noodle that is both wholesome and delicious. In such good company — Korean barbecue and Japanese teriyaki, sushi can be easily, yet undeservedly, forgotten. Palace owns a sushi bar, situated to your left as you walk in, which offers seaweed-wrapped rolls with both raw and cooked fish.
Right when you think your meal can’t get any better, the waiter/waitress comes with a Korean dessert: rice punch. It’s a light, sweet, cold drink served in a teacup that’s the perfect culmination to your stay at Palace — the restaurant that will have you walking out the door feeling like a king or queen.
7131 Little River Tpke
Annandale, Va. 22003
Hours: 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. daily