Namoo Korean Bowl 300 E Abram St., Arlington. 469-403-0037. 12-8:30pm Sun, 11am–8:30pm Mon-Fri, 12-8:30pm Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
The demolition and rebuilding of the Arlington Central Library has made a mess of Abram Street over the past few months. So it would seem counterintuitive for a new non-chain restaurant to set up shop in the area awash in constant road closure signs and orange cones. But that’s just what Namoo Korean Bowl did in January. The tiny, authentic eatery opened this, its second location, on the swath of Abrams a little east of UTA in a space that formerly housed a Freebirds World Burrito. Then again, Namoo’s sister spot is in North Richland Hills, so the owners are probably inured to constant construction and stop-and-start traffic.
The outside door handle is pretty much all that remains from the former chain burrito joint. Namoo’s interior is cool and beautiful, with a tree motif that reverberates through the décor of wooden benches, tables, and dinnerware.
The concept is fairly simple: Get started with a complimentary bowl of seaweed soup, which, according to Korean tradition, is very healthy. While I can’t say I felt rejuvenated after eating it, the broth was pleasantly salty (almost like miso soup), with strips of seaweed that had a gummy texture similar to boiled okra.
There are a dozen menu options, and each dish was paired with a sauce, from sesame oil to plain soy to gan-jang (fermented soy beans and brine). Entrées come with a dumpling, rice, edamame, ginger, jalapeño, lettuce, red cabbage, and daikon-like Korean radishes. Pick your protein – beef, pork, shrimp, or tofu. Helpfully, all of the menu items are pictured in color.
Although Korean cuisine is known for being spicy, most of the options at Namoo won’t flame out your taste buds. The exception: Jjigae, a Korean stew, is possibly the most authentic, no-holds-barred menu item. The soup was funky –– you could smell the fermented kimchi and veggie-laden stew from a good two feet away.
The chile-red broth should have provided a clue about the level of heat. Cubes of silken tofu cut the fire a little but not much. Delicately chopped pork turned out to be a subtle surprise and added flavor and texture. The spiciness left me with a little song in my heart and cleared-out sinuses.
The bibimbap was also fairly true to its Korean roots. The mixed rice bowl with finely sliced beef, stir-fried veggies, and delicious slivers of mushroom was topped with a soft-cooked egg. A liberal sprinkling of sesame oil provided most of the flavor. The gooey egg’s richness balanced the pungent sesame oil and provided a luscious coating for the rice.
The entrée Fresh Ocean – peeled, sautéed shrimp topped with gan-jang sauce – packed a peppery flavor, but the dish needed more oomph than just the topping. Fortunately, Namoo has a five-sauce condiment bar. The spicy red offering called No. 4, with its horseradish tang on the back end, worked well with the shrimp. No. 5 had a sweet heat that built slowly so that it took about three bites in before I realized I might be in trouble. The spicy mayo (No. 3) was like a creamy Sriracha. Skip the sweet mayo (No. 1), unless you really like the flavor and texture of Miracle Whip.
Because most of the toppings were identical, it became difficult to tell the dishes apart. The Seoul (marinated beef) and dae bak (marinated pork) looked and tasted pretty similar. The dumplings that accompanied the meat dishes were more like mediocre egg rolls and not the traditional dumplings pictured on the menu. Entrées also included thin Korean rice noodles, which were a nice addition to the plain rice.
Everything was plated beautifully, but the soups were served in Styrofoam cups, and all of the utensils were plastic. As a bonus, Namoo shares patio space with Twisted Root Burger Co. and longtime stalwart Hooligan’s Pub.
Over the last decade, Arlington has managed to attract several sit-down chain eateries to the area (Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, Mellow Mushroom, Flying Fish), along with the Grease Monkey, a locally owned burgers-n-brews joint. It’s nice to have another unusual independent restaurant in that mix — even with the detours and road closures.
Namoo Korean Bowl
Kimchi Jjigae $8.95
Dae bak $8.95
Fresh Ocean $8.95
The Seoul $9.95