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In and Out Restaurant

That said, the In and Out did have a few compelling features, not the least of which was a thriving vegetable garden that had been planted around the back and east side of the building: onions, pepper buds, a hothouse full of germinating lettuce and cabbage seeds. Just what was going on here? Someone from the group volunteered to be a scout and slipped in the door, which was hidden around the rear. When she didn't return, we figured she was either bound and gagged or already sipping tea.

To our surprise, we found a very tidy dining area that was in complete conflict with the In and Out's outer shell. We were served corn and wheat tea and the menus, and we realized at once that we'd stumbled on something truly authentic — a restaurant that could hardly be classified as ethnic, since that would imply it existed in the regular varied pool of marketed restaurants. The In and Out, with its virtual absence of marketing and its word-of-mouth clientele, is relative only to itself. English is barely spoken here.

Our waitress knew so little of the language, in fact, that she had to beckon the owner, who struggled with it herself. This was how we met Soon Han, who owns the place with her husband, Chong. The garden is her mother-in-law's and is the source of, among other things, Han's superb kimchee. Han takes a great amount of pride in her dishes. At one point she even returned to our table to assert that one of the dishes we'd ordered was simply not up to her standards. She refused to serve it.

Han's kimchee was a specialty on the menu, along with some of the most exotic things you might never order — ox-blood soup, dried cuttlefish and peanuts, spicy sea snail — with some items on the menu hovering in the $27 range. We took a cue from the next table and ordered a spread of angler fish and mussel soups, spicy pork stir-fry and beef spareribs. The service, in fact, was as beautifully odd as the menu: The ribs were served with — get this — chopsticks and a pair of scissors.

"Is it spicy?" one of us asked about a particular dish. The waitress struggled with the translation. "Spicy?" she said. "Oh, no." A moment passed while she poured tea, when suddenly she caught herself. "Oh — hot, you mean?" When we said yes, a smile bloomed across her face. It was funny — after happening upon this little gem on the turnpike, even the littlest misunderstandings seemed tiny diamonds in the rough. S

In and Out Restaurant (a.k.a. "88")

6135 Midlothian Turnpike 231-5388

Monday - Thursday 4:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Friday

and Saturday 11 p.m. — 2 a.m.

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