The other day I had lunch with Jacques Wool at Waba, a restaurant I highly recommend. Let's start with the menu. I like the menu there because although I had been to Waba a few times before, I have no idea what most of the dishes are. So I appreciate the menus, which are presented flat on the counter for easy perusal. You don't have to crane your neck gawking at a menu board full of items you don't understand. You can stand relaxedly at the counter and look down at the menu. And the menu has photographs of the dishes. This is helpful for those who don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of Korean cuisine, and I count myself among that group. Also helpful are the little hot-pepper icons. Whoever started this hot-pepper icon craze was a genius. As you know, I love hot, spicy food (when it's flavorful heat, not just some chemical burn). I want the hottest thing on the menu, sir! And I can find that hottest item by looking for the hot-pepper icon. And Waba uses this fantastic feature on their menu. They even have double hot-peppers! Of course, my eye was immediately magnetized to those items. And I zeroed in on the Dduk Bok Ki. Now, though I am multi-lingual (to say the least, though my Guugu Yimidhirr is a bit shaky), I haven't the least idea how to pronounce "Dduk Bok Ki." I just can't do it. I could try to fake it, but that would be ridiculous, I would end up just embarrassing myself and others. So I love the menu at Waba because you can just point to things. But I truly want to learn, and so I just come out and say it: "How do you pronounce that?" And the person at the counter will pronounce it for you. Isn't that great? Now I have a pretty good idea how to pronounce Dduk Bok Ki. And I feel better about everything as a result. So I'm standing up there pointing and asking, and I realize that I'm not just ordering food, but I'm learning. I am a lifelong learner, as all food critics (or any critics, really) must be.
Jacques Wool ordered the Mandu. These are dumplings or pot-stickers. Whoever came up with the name Pot Sticker? It's mildly embarrassing. I mean, what is that supposed to mean? They stick to the pot? The pot hasn't been sufficiently greased and therefore things are sticking to it? That's like calling an omelet a pan-sticker. Nobody would ever call it that. It's a chummy, overly familiar and faintly disrespectful way to speak of a dish. And that dish looked good! I was covetously eying Jacques' Mandu the entire time, hoping for some kind of diversion to happen out on Hillsborough Street (great new modernistic aluminum fixtures, by the way!) so I could reach out and take one...with my fork!
OK, here's the next thing about Waba. They offer you forks or chopsticks. This is a controversial topic. I know people who think it's unbelievably gauche to eat with a fork in a place that offers chopsticks. Well, let me tell you--there are things that I like to do with my food when I'm eating it that I don't know how to do with chopsticks. I like to move my food around, let it drag through the hot sauce, swirl it...things I don't think I can do with chopsticks. Anyway, I guess I just like the pure sensation of spearing my food, instead of just gently cradling it between two distancing pieces of wood. Call me a vulgarian! But it isn't because I can't use them. No, I've been trained in their use. I know how to do it. And I have eaten with them plenty of times. Anyway, Waba gives you that choice, and I'm grateful for it.
Well, the Dduk Bok Ki was fabulous. I loved the hot sauce, it definitely merited two hot (hott?) peppers. The fish,sliced into thin strips, was very tasty. The rice dumplings held my attention throughout the meal, and chewing them added suspense to the conversation as Jacques waited for my responses.
Overall, Waba is a reliable, enjoyable dining experience. I'm looking forward to trying every single item on their horizontal menu. It's a great place to meet and hold an intelligent conversation--something about the airiness and calm atmosphere seems to lend itself to this. And so I enthusiastically award Waba a full FIVE DUMPLINGS!