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Woodland Lounge

Out of a possible five
$

Offshoot lounge shines thanks to Kaysan taste

Its elegant décor took me by surprise.

With a subdued, big-city nightclub feel created by a strong emphasis on cherry wood, Woodland Lounge oozes classy and takes a backseat to no other bar/restaurant in the city in terms of looks.

Located in the former Pine Valley Bar and Grill in Woodland Plaza, there has been little buzz about this place since it opened a couple of years ago. But it wasn’t just its good looks that made me think more people should be buzzing about it. An offshoot of Kaysan’s 5th Down on Washington Center Road, Woodland Lounge represents its parent store admirably and includes much of the interesting mix of Korean and Mexican fare that regulars of Kaysan’s have grown to love.

The well-known Kaysan’s Oriental sweet and spicy wings were perfect – grilled until crisp and basted in a sticky-sweet glaze with red pepper flakes clinging to them. The other fine Far East-inspired appetizer that won favor was the vegetable pot stickers. Steamed and then pan-fried until just a bit brown, these eight dumplings were not at all oily and had a super fresh-tasting filling of scallions, chopped onion, cellophane noodles and a soy-based meat substitute that even fooled me into thinking I had received the beef version instead of the vegetarian ones.

The beef bulgoghi was easily the best entrée and ranked ahead of the Korean barbecue I have had at some of the Summit City’s strictly Korean eateries. Thinly sliced sirloin tips were swimming in a classic Korean barbecue sauce and served on a bed of sliced yellow onions that still had a little snap to them. The meat was tender and perfectly sauced, and the side of sticky Korean rice soaked up that sauce perfectly.

The Oriental sesame chicken breast was rather boring by comparison, but what grilled chicken breast isn’t? The same sauce on the sweet spicy wings minus the red pepper coated two sizable breasts that were nicely grilled to be kind of charred and chewy around the edges but still juicy in the middle. The fries that accompanied them, however, were exciting. They were thick, steak fry-style, only crinkle cut, and they were about as good as a steak fry gets.

When it came to the Mexican side of the menu, the combination plate was a decent option. It included a burrito, a taco and a tostada, all with either ground beef or seasoned chicken, and included an OK side of cheddar-topped refried beans and surprisingly good rice. The burrito, which I had with chicken, contained stringy light and dark meat that was rich and hearty as if it had been slow-cooked or stewed. It was buried under a blanket of melted cheddar, and the only thing that could have improved it was a ladling of enchilada gravy. After sharing with her how much I liked it, my server said she loved it, too, and, coincidentally, said she wished they had the gravy to go with it as they do at the 5th Down because that makes the dish even better.

The taco and tostada, which I had with beef, consisted of the same basic ingredients with beans added to the tostada. The beef was tasty; the iceberg lettuce and tomatoes were fresh; and both were decent. The best vehicle for the ground beef proved to be nachos. Woodland Lounge tops each chip individually with seasoned ground beef, chewy melted cheddar and jalapeños. The only thing that could have improved them was a better salsa that was not as runny and provided at least some heat.

If Korean or Mexican is not up your alley, you could try a little Italian.

The linguini a la marinara had perfectly cooked noodles, a flavorful, slightly sweet sauce and meatballs with just the right texture – not mushy and not overly browned. The big buttery Texas toast grilled cheese was also a winner, especially when flanked by those steak fries.

Overall, Woodland Lounge was a winner. There were only a couple of service issues – a server who went MIA and a couple of late-arriving entrées – but its beautiful décor and surprisingly good food made those oversights easy to overlook.

Restaurant: Woodland Lounge

Address: 918 Woodland Plaza Run

Phone: 490-6836

Hours: 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: American/Asian

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol served: Full bar

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Sweet and spicy wings ($6.29 for 6), vegetable pot stickers ($4.99), nachos ($9.29 for 12/$6.50 half), bulgoghi ($12.99), Mexican combo plate ($12.99), Oriental sesame chicken breasts ($13.99), linguini a la marinara ($9.99), grilled cheese ($3.49)

Rating breakdown:

Food:

** (3 star maximum),

atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call 461-8130, or go to the “Dining out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found there, and you can hear Ryan from 5 to 6 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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