Need Help/Education in Korean BBQ
I know there are plenty of places in K town up & down Wilshire, Western, & Olympic Blvds. I tried Korean BBQ a couple of years ago @ this place on Western, just south of Melrose (forget the name) & no one spoke english, menus were in english but just a basic description of ingredients, and no explanation of how to order or how to use the grill etc. So I kinda very politely was watching other tables and trying to follow their lead. Overall it just wasn't a very pleasant experience. I'm over it now and would like to give Korean BBQ another try.
My question as a beginner to Korean BBQ, and would like to try, could I get some recommendations as to whre to go that would be "beginner friendly", maybe with menus in English or at least where the staff speaks English and wouldn't mind explaning what & how to order since I wouldn't know where to begin. Unfortunately, I have no Korean
friends/aquaintances that I could go with. Maybe that's where I need to start is to find some Korean friends and have them teach me the ways/etiquette of Korean cuisine so I have a much more enjoyable experience next time I try. Any suggestions/comments are welcome.
Happy to oblige
My very first Korean BBQ experience was at Soot Bull Jeep on 8th and Catalina, but I wouldn't necessarily rate this a "beginner" place... although the meat is excellent, the exhaust vents are there for purely cosmetic reasons, and the smoke from the charcoal burns your eyeballs out. But if you want really deep, smoky, charcoal BBQ, this is really the only game in town (other places use gas, or a gas/charcoal combo but these pale in comprison to the experience at Soot Bull Jeep.) If you decide to go, get the chicken, marinated spencer steak and/or marinated short ribs. You won't be disappointed in the food, but the ultra grungy interior and smoke in your eyeballs might put you off.
By the way, all those little dishes they bring out to you (called "banchan") are free and refillable. The lettuce leaves are used to wrap the meat up like a taco, which you can garnish as you see fit with chili paste, green onion salad, etc. There are no rules, as long as it tastes good to you. As for those raw garlic cloves, roast them too.
Now Soot Bull Jeep's barbecue is delicious, but the banchan are a bit simple. If you go to a place like Chosun Galbee (near Olympic and Vermont), you'll have gas burners but they rub down the grill with butter or suet, which adds a depth of flavor. The banchan here are more complex... little potato salads, vermicelli noodle salads, crunchy tiny salted fish, marinated fish cakes, etc. but the decor is top notch, like a posh Beverly Hills eatery, and the servers all wear big numbers so you don't have to remember and complex Korean names. Also, as with many Korean restaurants, they have a button on the table which calls your server to you. I love the button.
Last one is on Wilshire, west of Western-- Tahoe Galbi. The specialty is... galbi, (marinated short ribs). They do have an all you can eat $17.99 deal, but save yourself the trouble of a mediocre meal and buy the ala carte marinated galbi. You'll get the same spread of banchan, but instead of lettuce leaves you'll get large sheets of square rice noodles in which to wrap your meat. (This is a different regional style of Korean BBQ).
OK, the extra bonus one is Park's BBQ..... for the Kobe beef bbq. Exquisite! But remember... it's $30 for a plate of beef, so please for the love of God don't overcook it. Just a few seconds to sear on each side, and then eat. It should be pink in the middle, and incredibly tender to chew. If you overcook it, it will get rubber bandy (thought it will be a tender and very nice tasting rubber band)
955 S. Vermont Ave, Suite G, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Soot Bull Jeep
3136 W 8th St, Los Angeles, CA 90005
Chosun Galbi Restaurants
3330 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019
3986 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010
re: Mr Taster
nice KBBQ 101 there! i would add that you should definitely try meats UN-marinated also. some people like me prefer it, and i'm always dipping it in hot sauce. i also will grill up anything around me, especially the garlic as mentioned, and also the kimchi. other than lettuce and rice sheets, there's another wrapper of white pickled radish, and that's my favorite. one of those wrapped around an unmarinated pork belly with a charred garlic clove and a perfectly fried piece of kimchi and some of that garlic chili sauce..... the bomb.
KBBQ is all about the DIY so just think of it like you're in your own kitchen and someone's just bringing you the ingredients for dinner and go to town. lots of places will serve extra free stuff if you order meat, like a pot of soup or cold noodles or whatever, so don't be surprised.
try out all the different places, from park's kobe beef to manna's dirty cafeteria-style dining. you might be surprised at what you like!
re: Mr Taster
Those are all pretty good tips/advice. The only thing I can add is that you should try the Kalbi and Bulgogi. Those are the 2 most popular types of BBQ. Sometimes you can get those cooked for you and served.
One restaurant I like is Kang Nam. It's very clean and the food is popular among Korean people. The Bibimbahp is good too. I may write a review of this place later.
Kang Nam Restaurant
4103 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019
Park's is not really a beginner's place -- not that it's hard to figure out, and it IS the very best barbecue in Koreatown -- but they're too busy to help you out. Try Chosun Galbee first. It's a little more accessible, and the waitresses will help you out (though they may roll their eyes -- just ignore it).
I'll just add one thing -- I hear a lot of newcomers to KBBQ complaining about the service, and maybe it was because they weren't Korean, didn't order right, didn't cook right, were written off as a bad job, etc. It's not, it's just that service works differently -- in 95 out of 100 Korean restaurants every table is equipped with a little electronic bell or buzzer. My wife calls it the "get over here" button. When you want service, try to catch someone's eye, but if you don't, just push the button, and someone will come by.
Also, they will try to get you to drink. It's extremely, EXTREMELY common to drink soju, which is white liquor about 50 proof (25% alcohol by volume), and maekju, which is beer along Japanese lines (light and very carbonated). Soju by itself is... hm... an acquired taste, so maybe stick with maekju. (And if you want to show off, you can say "maekju Hite hana pang chuseyo" or "maekju O.B. hana pang chuseyo" to order a bottle of Hite (pronounced "height") or O.B., the two largest Korean beer manufacturers.)
re: Das Ubergeek
First of all, Lets not order chicken at KBBQ place and complain it wasnt very good.
Its all about beef abd pork at KBBQs
For cuts of beef, try galbi(ribs), joo mul luk(top sirloin), chadol begi(brisket),
For pork, its all about "sam gyeop sal" (pork belly)
I'd say start off at a AYCE to try various cuts of meat and find out what suites your pallate. Above mentioned tahoe is a decent place, I'd recommend Gui Mok, nice little place offering AYCE, better service and meat compared to tahoe imo.
Your ultimate destination should be Parks. The unmarinated ribs and the kobe beef is to die for,
There isnt much to it, Fire up the grill and start cooking, and dont forget the soju!
P.S. I find it hiliarious when my white friends ask "Is the meat ready to eat?"
uhh..its just beef, if its not bleeding, its done.
re: Das Ubergeek
wow, didnt think anyone on chow would know about chuncheon dak galbi.
Koreans do eat alot of chicken, mostly in the form of friend chicken(i.e. kyochon), sam gye tang( chicken ginnseng soup) or baek sook ( similiar with sgt w/o ginseng).
dak gal bi is definately one of the more popular chicken dishes after above mentioned dishes, made famous in the Chuncheon province of Korea.
There is only one dak galbi place in Koreatown as far as I know , cant compare to the real stuff from Chuncheon, but its decent dak gal bi
Mapo Dak Gal bi
I like Park's but the serving ladies at Soot Bull Jeep and Sa Rit Gol are more helpful than at Park's (they come over and help flip the food, etc.). Both Soot Bull Jeep and Sa Rit Gol have English menus (Soot Bull Jeep's is fairly limited, making the choices easier) and Sa Rit Gol has combos with BBQ and a beer (maybe Soju too?) Soot Bull Jeep has a nice sweet dipping sauce for the Kalbi.
Make sure you ask for seconds on any panchan you like, they are always happy to give more (Sa Rit Gol has a good selection)
KBBQ to me when first started out was the marinated meets such as bulgogi and galbi. This is good place to get your palate familiar with Korean seasoning and balance of flavors.
Just this year, I was exposed to the unmarinated cuts of beef, like rib eye, brisket, tongue, intestines; and pork( Samgyeopsal) belly which is my new favorite. Now I get enjoy the flavor of meat come though. I eat less rice by wrapping my meat in duk bo ssam, the rice noodle wrapper with chili paste( Ssamjang) and salt and pepper oil.
My mouth is watering thinking about it.
I agree - don't order chix - it's all about the beef and how good it is. There's a lot to learn about the side dishes (banchan) too - so many kinds, and you are not familiar with how things SHOULD taste. Just try everything and see what you like.
Korean service is notoriously bad - but you CAN get better service - you have to speak up and ask for help. It's okay to call loudly for the waitress (there are rare male waiters - it's considered beneath men to wait tables).
The marinated meats like kalbi are mostly eaten straight - no condiment. The unmarinated meats you dip in sesame oil/salt or soybean paste. These will be provided to you in little dishes. If you are not sure what it is, don't be afraid to ask. The waitresses are very busy but if they see you need help they will be accommodating. You can ask Koreans at other tables too - they will get a kick out of helping you out.
Good luck and have fun!