World Peace and Barbecue

Texans and Koreans can unify behind Woo Mi Gwan's ribs

The bottom line is that I have yet to encounter a bad dish here. Woo Mi Gwan's is an authentic, honest kitchen that makes few concessions to American tastes -- wouldn't even know how to -- and still ends up with food that Texans can appreciate. But unlike most venues where Texans congregate to sear their palates and devour grilled meats, Woo Mi Gwan sends you home with a light step, oddly invigorated despite having consumed ribs and dumplings and seafood pancake and scads of extracurricular bites.

Since it's on my end of town, it has behooved me to decipher Woo Mi Gwan's little mysteries and quirks. I know not to heed the owners' admonitions that certain items are "too spicy" for non-Koreans; aside from a few sinus-clearing side dishes, the heat levels aren't lethal. I know to speak up for glasses of water and soup bowls and plates -- items which the cordial hosts, for reasons best known to themselves, provide only on a random basis. I know to avoid the grim fluorescent glare on one side of the restaurant by claiming the big round table in a far corner, where gentler light from simple rice-paper fixtures holds sway.

I have learned to love -- well, like -- the rudimentary decor, a rectilinear tracery of pale-wood screens and readymade partitions, equal parts Builders Square and Seoul-on-a-Shoestring. And I confess a fondness for Woo Mi Gwan's oddball atmospherics, furnished by a karaoke video screen that bippity-bops along with Korean lyrics on a tide of marshmallowy synthesizer music. To date I have recognized only "The Green, Green Grass of Home" and a Donny Osmondish "Too Young" -- both, I might add, to my sorrow. Mostly the tunes conjure up a manic teddy bear's picnic. Adding a tinge of virtual unreality is the dining room's chronically underpopulated state; doubtless it has been many moons since a patron arose to warble a Korean ditty, but the perpetual-motion karaoke machine plunges along regardless, a '90s-style headless horseman.

At the end of the meal, your check arrives at the table escorted by neatly wrapped sticks of chewing gum. I have come to look forward to this curious ritual; I have even been known to argue over the Juicy Fruit. And, like a high jumper eyeing the six-foot bar, I am psyching myself up for a run at the menu's terra incognita. Today, pork ribs; tomorrow, pan-fried octopus.

Woo Mi Gwan Korean Restaurant, 8221 Broadway, 645-7172.

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