Eating at a Korean restaurant in a Western country will never compare to experiencing the real thing night in and night out.
The same logic can apply to eating Western-style food on Jeju.
Paradoxically, the White House Restaurant is worth the ride and price of admission even if there is a slight feeling of emptiness.
There is a story floating in the ethereal world of rapacious Jeju gossip of the owner and the reason why he or she started the grand edifice near the coast road north of the airport.
“The White House opened in November 2004. There was no special reason,” General Manager Oh Yong Jun said about one of the biggest restaurants on the island. “The restaurant wanted to sell a lot of kinds of food like a buffet, spaghetti and steak.”
“There was no wood-fired pizza on Jeju before,” Oh said.
The menu and the interior are intense. There are two spectrums, with everything in between. All budgets and people are welcome. The bourgeois meet the proletariat. An abalone steak meets a pauper’s dinner roll. Expensive red wine meets a student’s Coke. Louis Vuitton meets Hello Kitty.
The inside chandeliers, artwork, and statues from around the world are worth a repeat look-see. Admittedly, the first-floor lobster tank looks out of place as does “filet” on the menu. A friend and I had to try both and much more.
Lobster on Jeju? True. They are from Canada and served smothered in cheese and other unidentifiable ingredients.
From Jeju cows, the filet mignon and tenderloin come doused in gravy. No choice, but guaranteed never frozen.
I’ve seen and tasted a large portion of the menu on two previous visits with co-workers. The pizzas (around 20,000-ish) are thin, but worth eating. The barbecued pork rib and fried potato (23,000) ignites Pavlovian drool. The pastas? Stay away.
After entering this place the third time, all this was a whirlwind; it made my head spin.
My friend opted for the Special A entree (lobster, prawn, and beef tenderloin) at 45,000. Surf and turf on Jeju is out of place. Save it for your journey to North America or Europe.
Koreans may think it deserves “special” status. There’s a reason that between 2,500 and 3,000 people visit here each week.
The White House has three floors. Families, friends, coworkers, and couples usually occupy the first and second, according to Oh. The third floor houses the 65-item buffet priced at 27,000. About 40 workers, many part-timers, man the whole operation.
I resigned myself to the seven-course B listing for 55,000 after the A listing (65,000) was lacking the abalone steak portion for the night.
Three thick slabs of smoked salmon with caviar appeared first along with a cream soup bowl sealed by a mushroom-shaped bread hat. Strange. Another sideshow to the culinary circus. Fully pleased regardless. The ride started so high in quality, it only made sense that the dip would start right about here.
Spaghetti with cream sauce and shrimp and a small “well-being” style salad were third and fourth. What isn’t “well-being” in Korea? Perhaps substitute for ordinary. The olives were a nice touch in the spaghetti, but I already ate cream soup, so I wasn’t expecting another serving with noodles.
Number 5 of special B on the menu reads “Prime Medallion of Beef Filet Mignonne Steak.” The extra “ne” is unwarranted, just as the extra gravy concoction is too.
Jeju’s mango juice, ice cream and a mini cake finished out the hunger-extinguishing meal.
The best description I have ever read about foreigners and locals on Jeju was from a Korean woman who stated something along these lines: like oil and water, they don’t mix. Inherently, the same goes for Western food on Jeju.
The White House is good. But instead of satisfying the palate temporarily, it may push one to experience better back home.
White House Restaurant Yongduam 3 dong 2572-4 Telephone: 064-712-3200 mobile: 010-8660-2456 Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; buffet 6 to 10 p.m.
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