At the newly opened Soo Woo Japanese and Korean Steakhouse in Hollywood, you can embark on one of two paths to tasty meats grilled right at the table.
The first path takes you to one of six teppenyaki tables, where you'll find all the trappings of a typical Benihana show: the flaming-onion volcano, the ill-advised flailing of sharp objects, and heart-shaped mounds of fried rice for giggling children (or adults out for birthday meals giggling like children).
The second path takes you to one of five tables with built-in electric grills for Korean barbecue, where you are served a plate of one meat of your choice with traditional accouterments. You then cut and toss your hunks of meat onto the grill using a pair of tongs and large scissors.
There is a third path: You can sit at a normal table or the bar, order some darn good sushi or Korean favorites, and get out the door quickly without a fuss.
Whatever you choose, Soo Woo is a refreshing addition to west Hollywood, where there's a dearth of upscale (or even good) restaurants. The original Soo Woo opened 15 years ago in Doral, but the restaurant recently exploded to three new locations around South Florida: in Pembroke Pines, Hollywood and Country Walk in Southwest Miami-Dade County. Soo Woo is also doing its best to get on the "Gangnam Style" gravy train — the popular South Korean pop song permeating the airwaves — including a dance-off for its opening party and playing the song at top volume with fireworks for birthdays.
The addition of Korean cuisine to the typical teppenyaki experience means a new host of mouthwatering options for the seasoned (or bored) teppenyakigoer. But fans of traditional tableside Korean barbecue may be a bit disappointed, as the Soo Woo version is a somewhat pared-down version of the experience.
If you do try the Korean barbecue, there's one thing you must not pass up: galbi ($29,95), a helping of butterfly-cut, salty-sweet marinated short-rib meat that tantalized us as it was grilled in front of us, pricey though it is. Avoid the kurabata pork belly ($19.95), as the overwhelming, atypical amount of fat on these strips meant we couldn't even get them down the hatch. You also have the options of New York strip ($22.95) and filet mignon ($23.95), and that's it. All Korean dishes, including the barbecue, come with an assortment of banchan, small plates of potato salad or chicken salad, kimchi and cold-fried tofu.
Barbecue items come with a host of sauces, romaine lettuce for wrapping the meat and pajori, a delicious green-onion salad. However, without being able to pick and choose small amounts of a wider assortment of meat, some of the joy of the Korean barbecue experience is diminished, unless you come as a large group and are good at sharing. Also, some of the tables with grills are quite small, and the grill we used heated very unevenly (it was hotter away from the controls), so be wary of where you place your raw meat.
If you don't get full on the banchan, go for some of Soo Woo's excellent sushi, starting with the easy-to-love Miami Heat roll ($11.95), an enormous, warm roll of shrimp tempura, cream cheese, crab stick, salmon and tempura flakes. Try the moose roll ($11.95), with crab-stick meat, tuna tartar and spicy sauce. As recommended by one of the managers, ask to add some avocado and cream cheese to this roll for an even better mix of flavors.
A couple of other not-to-miss items are the bulgogi ($22.95), thin-sliced pieces of marinated rib-eye steak and onions sitting in a pool of savory garlic-soy sauce, as well as the haemul pajeon ($14.95), an enormous, shareable and somewhat omelettelike pancake of seafood made of eggs, flours, scallions and more.
At the teppenyaki table, where our group sat on the first visit, you'll find expert grillers who do their best to draw smiles with tricks and well-meaning, cheesy jokes. There's a relatively well-priced list of meats from which to choose, including sirloin, churrasco, New York strip, filet mignon, rib-eye, chicken, shrimp, lobster and scallops. You'll also get the typical salad, mushroom soup, vegetables, rice ($2.95 extra for fried rice) and two sauces, including the beloved mayonnaise-based sauce our guy dubbed "yum yum sauce."
Of the many meats our group sampled, the churrasco ($25) and the scallops ($23) received top marks for their robust flavors. The beautiful thing about getting scallops at teppenyaki restaurants is these guys grill a limited number of simple meats under the same conditions over and over — ideal circumstances for getting consistently good scallops.
While we found the service to be considerate and professional, some of the rank-and-file staff need to bone up on some details of their workflow (missing soup spoons, letting us linger too long after the grilling was over) and knowledge of the menu to be better equipped to answer questions and show enthusiasm for the Korean cuisine.
Nevertheless, Soo Woo is a delightful addition to South Broward's dining scene, one that will hopefully draw customers in with expert teppenyaki but then drum up more much-needed enthusiasm in South Florida for Korean cuisine.
Soo Woo Japanese and Korean Steakhouse
5301 Sheridan St., Hollywood
Cuisine: Japanese and Korean
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate-loud
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, children's menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes