Walking up to the restaurant, we recollected that we have been to this location before; but as a different reincarnation. It then too was a do-it-yourself barbecue restaurant. But instead of a Japanese, this was now a lively and boppy Korean bbq hub. You could smell the smoke a block away, and hear the sizzle even past the jovial voices and the bubbly K-pop ballads belting.
Sadly, we were horribly late for our reservation, and as a result our table was given away. So we were left at the threshold, awkwardly standing, at the centre of a cluster of dining tables, separated by dark wood separators. There was no other option given that the small waiting area was already cramped, and it was too cold to enjoy standing outside. So here we were, waiting a minute for every one that we were originally late for.
It was packed house on Friday with plenty bodies waiting for a table after us, this did bolstered the restaurant’s imagine in my eyes. It had me thinking that it must be worth the wait, especially given how popular it was with the Korean population. The only hitch, all the waiting had my eyes drying from the unseen smoke and my nostrils trying to close in on themselves, to avoid breathing in the acrid smell of burning compounded, from every grill at every table. Be warned? This smell does follow you home, embedding itself in your hair and on your clothes.
But past this, the visit, the food, and especially the service were a delight. The young host was cheery and welcoming, we were ushered to our table as soon as one became available; and well look after each time we push the red button for service. A measure of convenience for the staff, but an action I could not get use to. Continuing to make eye contact and hail a person like I would a cab, like at everywhere else.
The menu was easy to navigate with plenty of coloured photos. If you want the full experience you get one of their predetermined barbecue sets, and to it add some sides. For more food, go for one of their full dishes like kimchi pancake, bibimbap, or japchae. There are also a number of smaller appetizers and share plates to consider.
But back to the barbecue sets: a collection of raw meats that you cook yourself on the grill, located at the centre of your table. They are a variety of sets to choose from, each with 4 sides, bowls of rice, soup and sauces. So you are basically choosing what types of meat you want. And then if you want the order as a medium which feeds 2 to spare, or large which can feed 3-4.
We went with the “Miss Combo A” which centred around rib eye steak, pork belly, special galbi, and chicken. And added on cheese as one of the grill sides for an extra $3.95. The price is steep for 60mls of shredded cheese melted and quick to burn, but amazingly delicious with the meat if you get it all gooey and stringy.
Meats are marinated and served all together on one platter for you to sort through. Larger cuts that you might want to trim down to size if you are sharing, and seeing as your meal doesn’t come with knives for slicing. You get two tongs and a pair of scissors. One of the tongs is for raw meat the other to serve the cooked cuts. You can either cut the meat down to size before or after it is cooked. We went with before and found the dull shears ineffective on any sinew.
We were advised to eat the chicken and pork first using a more closed off grill plate. And then when we move on to the beef, the grill plate would be changed to one that is more wire-y. This was nice, given that the grill isn’t oiled so it does get caked with burnt meat that sloughs off during the cooking process. So getting a new one mid way ensures you are tasting more of your meat, and less of the burning.
How the meat turns out depends on you, so be vigilant and visit with someone who actually enjoys tending to the grill. For me, not so much, I rather eat and enjoy my meal with minimum work. But this sort of dining is more for comradery and the ability to elongate a meal through slow preparation and gentle grazing anyways.
As for how it tasted, the seasoning was the same for all the meat, a mildly sweet and salty marinate. Good but not enough. I found myself dipping everything into the side of sweet soy, chilli, or course salt for more punch. Each cut had a different chew. I liked the special galbi the most for its perfect balance of fat and meat, the chicken was the most tender and naturally flavourful, the pork belly was mostly just fat, and the rib eye a little too aged and musky for my tastes. But the fun really comes from trying them all with a different combination of the egg, corn and cheese on the side.
The corn came shrivelled and remained dry. The egg bubbled up and kept warm like a fluffy omelette; and along side with the cheese and pork belly, you got flashbacks of breakfast. Be warned the cheese is very hot and it holds its heat, so be careful as it can burn your tongue.
You can also use the 4 vegetable sides as a way to inject a little flavour along with the meat and rice. Although majority of them are more tangy and refreshing in quality and serve better as a break in between, to change up the flavour with. Like the spicy cucumber and pickled julienned daikon. There is also the more common chilled boiled potato and spicy kimchi sides.
The soup comes to the table sizzling in its cast iron vessel. A light vegetable broth with hot spice. Mixed in are plenty of chopped cabbage and onion; with chucks on tofu, cannelloni beans, and zucchini. A great start to warm your stomach up for things to come. You can also enjoy the vegetables over your rice as they are well seasoned by the soup.
As good as all this was, and despite how much food we already had in front of us, I couldn’t walk away without ordering the “Seafood rice cake”. Rice cakes are one of my favourite, especially in this form. I enjoy the chew of the tubes, and here it was well highlighted by the mix of the seafood and their textures. Shrimp in tail, mussels in shell, sheets of fish cake, and squid curls; all smothered in a sweet chilli sauce. Spicy enough to give your tongue a run for its money, but not hot enough that you would stop eating. I am not ashamed to admit that I single handedly finished the whole bowl.
To drink we had soju, because when having Korean barbecue what else do you turn too? However I made the mistake of ordering a sweet one in green apple fruit. The result, the most un-complimentary food and drink pairing I have ever had. I outright admit soju was a bad idea. However, in my defence I typically am not the one who orders it, it is just shows up!
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
A great place for good barbecue and a fun date night option. Just be prepared to come out smelling like burn bbq smoke. Don’t deny your cravings.
MISS KOREA BBQ
793 Jervis St, Vancouver, BC V6E 2B1