Free Trade Agreement celebration: The menu, the details....
President Obama and President Lee Myung-bak dined for close to two hours on Wednesday night at Woo Lae Oak restaurant in Northern Virginia, on the eve of the South Korean leader's State Visit. There was plenty to celebrate as President Obama welcomed his counterpart to America: Congress was in the midst of approving the South Korean Trade Agreement. When news came of final approval, President Obama and President Lee celebrated mid-dinner, according to South Korean presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha. Mr. Obama later issued a statement hailing the agreement as "a major win for American workers and businesses." (Above: The Presidential motorcade in front of the restaurant)
The Presidents were accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and other aides, for a total party of ten: Five on the American side and five on the Korean side.
Presidents Obama and Lee have a friendly relationship, according to the White House, and have met on a number of occasions in the last two years; President Lee honored President Obama with a State Dinner in Seoul in 2009. The venerable Woo Lae Oak, open since 1946, serves traditional Korean cuisine, and the two Presidents had a feast that included some of the most popular menu items, manager Suzan Paik told Obama Foodorama.
"I felt very honored to have both of the Presidents here," said Paik. "I was very excited. It was epic."
Restaurant patrons felt the same: The Presidents, both clad in dark suits and ties, were greeted with applause and cheers as they entered the restaurant, located in the Tyson's Corner Mall, at 7:06 PM, following a rainy motorcade ride from the White House. The dinner was in a private dining room.
Woo Lae Oak is known for its tableside grilling, but the meal was prepared in the kitchen because the Presidential party was deep in conversation, Paik said. The dishes were served simultaneously. Both Presidents had the same meal, and their entree was one of the most popular dishes on the menu: Bulgogi, a traditional rib-eye steak, prepared with "a secret marinade."
Side dishes were Yachae, which is an assortment of grilled pumpkin, potato, broccoli, zucchini, and onions; Saewoo, which is barbecue shrimp tempura; and edamame. President Obama drank an iced tea, while President Lee enjoyed a Samuel Adams beer.
Both Presidents had fresh fruit for dessert; the platter included seasonal melon, pomegranate, and strawberries. Both also enjoyed a glass of Shik Hae, a sweet rice punch.
"President Obama ate a little more food," Paik observed.
Two members of the service staff waited on the Presidential party, Paik said. They were nervous but excited. Secret Service agents observed the meal preparation in the kitchen.
The Presidents and their party finished an hour and 49 minutes after their arrival, and exited the restaurant to more cheers and applause from patrons.
"It was pretty crazy here," Paik said.
Paik said the restaurant was alerted with a phone call less than three hours ahead of the Presidential visit. The dinner outing continues President Obama's tradition of dining with his honored guest on the eve of a State Visit; he escorted Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel to 1789 Restaurant in Georgetown for a private dinner in June, and he had dinner at the White House with China's President Hu Jintao in January of this year.
The two Presidents were in the motorcade and rolling in a heavy rain at 8:55 PM for the ride back to the White House. President Lee was dropped off at Blair House, and President Obama was back at the White House via the northeast gate to the South Lawn at 9:25 PM.
A White House official released the following statement:
"On the eve of the state visit in honor of Republic of Korea President Lee Myung-bak, President Obama welcomed President Lee to the United States over a traditional Korean meal at the Woo Lae Oak restaurant."
President Lee has Woo Lae Oak visited before...
President Lee has visited Woo Lae Oak before; it happened before he became president, Paik said. His wife, First Lady Kim Yoon-ok, has also visited. Mrs. Kim is Korea's culinary ambassador, the lovely face of her government's Korean Cuisine to the World campaign, which has an official goal of quadrupling the number of Korean restaurants located abroad. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also dined at Woo Lae Oak, about two years ago. (Above: President Obama shows off his Taekwondo moves for President Lee in Seoul during a luncheon in 2009)
Woo Lae Oak is owned by the Jang family, and has two restaurants in Korea and one in Chicago, in addition to the Tyson's Corner location. The locations with the same name elsewhere in the US are franchises, Paik said.
Information: Woo Lae Oak is at 8240 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA, 22182. Phone: (703) 827-7300.
*Top photo by Charles Dharapak/AP; second via Getty