I’m typically not a fan of Korean food. Previous experiences have ranged from too much garlic, to overly sweet bulgogi, to chewy and inedible grilled pork skin; and to emerging from poorly ventilated restaurants smelling musky of days-old food. I’m aware that my sentiment goes against the love for Korean food as shown by legions of fans, but sorry — or not — I just never got into it.
But at Lighthouse Tofu, also known as Vit Goel, I’m assured that I’ll never encounter the problems mentioned above. Atmosphere in the wood-paneled restaurant is quite a pleasant home feel, whilst servers are quick with recommending dishes and serving complimentary little saucers of kimchi and pickled vegetable appetizers.
Entrees here look and taste like healthy, home-cooked meals. Ingredients are fresh, negating the need for heavy handedness on the seasoning, and yet, dishes still turn out flavorful enough to keep customers coming back for more. I usually get one of their famous soondooboo, or tofu soups, as part of a small ensemble of dishes, but this last time when I went to Lighthouse, I wanted to try other things on the menu.
The seafood pajeon (pajun) is crispy on the edges, chewy towards the middle and filled generously with sliced vegetables, but slightly skimpy on the seafood and taste. It was still good, and the companion dipping sauce makes it better.
Spicy Octopus Dish
Sorry for the nondescript dish name. Although delicious, I can’t remember what it’s called. It’s like a mildly spicy octopus bulgogi and julienned veggies, and we had a little bit of confusion while ordering this. We Asians are allegedly notorious for being complacent with tentacles, feet, beady black eyes and a whole variety of legs served in their food, as everyone else watches in horror (or less frequently, awe) as we dine on these delicacies with relish. Our server must have thought my Italian-American friend hadn’t a clue what she was getting herself into, and suggested a squid noodle dish that didn’t have whole pieces of squid in them.
What she didn’t know is that my friend is an Octopus Fiend, even venturing to eat large pieces of mini octopuses whole — a texture I can’t stomach no matter how well it’s been flavoured. We declined our kind server’s suggestion in favour of a large hot plate full of octopus, small enough to be bite-sized that I had some too. The sauce wasn’t too spicy and bordered on soupy, perfect for spooning on to your rice. I typically like my hot dishes to have a robust piquantness, but in this instance, that was irrelevant, as it was tasty and good without needing more.
Hot Stone Bowl Bibimbap
Bibimbap is white, short-grain rice that’s completely covered with shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrots and snow pea leaves, each neatly arranged in segments, topped with some sauce and a sunny side up egg and served in a hot steel bowl The egg yolk is intentionally served runny, to be broken, swirled and soaked up by the veggies and rice. The more you mash and swirl, the more the the yolk cooks on the surface of the bowl — salmonella worries, be gone! Thinly sliced pork also begins to emerge from the depths of the bowl, but there isn’t a lot to discover; at least, not during this meal. The delights of this dish goes all the way to the bottom, where the rice has cooked long enough that you can scrape off a crunchy, cracker-like layer that is every bit as delicious as the rest of the dish. Bibimbap is very much like a healthy version of fried rice to me, and I can’t be far off, as the word translates as “mixed rice.”
True to the Korean dining experience, the table is always full of food, even at tables of two. This means that you’ll never order more than you can eat (unless you want,) which helps keep your meals here affordable. Our bill arrived as we enjoyed bowls of barley-and-rice tea, (another complimentary side dish that you can have with your meal or as a plate cleanser after) which came to approximately 35 bucks with tips and tax.
Overall, I’m pretty happy to have ventured off my usual picks, but there’s a reason why the soondooboo dishes at Lighthouse is the talk of the town: unique, hearty and flavorful comfort dishes that can strike a chord with practically anyone is bound to be a winner. I’ll also add the bibimbap to my personal list.
Vit Goel (Lighthouse Tofu)
4121 Chatelain Rd
Annandale, VA 22003
Mon – Sat 10:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sun 10:30 am – 10:30 pm
12710 Twinbrook Pkwy
Rockville, MD 20847
Mon to Sun 10:30 am – 10:30 pm