While the storms that were supposed to lash Southern California left me disappointed, they still put me in the mood for my favorite winter treats; grilled meat and spicy soup. Most Americans consider BBQ a summer activity. Not me. Why make a hot summer day worse by spending it hunched over a big pile of glowing charcoal? Instead, when the air is cold and water is falling from the sky, cozying up to a toasty tabletop grill indoors makes all the sense in the world. Add a sizzling stone pot full of piping hot soup and you'll soon be ready to sneer at the worst winter has to offer.
Korea House BBQ is my chosen neighborhood spot to sling a few shrimp on the barbie. Sandwiched in an out-of-the-way shopping center between Turtle Rock and University Park, it offers everything I look for in a restaurant. It's close, the service is fast, the food is good, the portions are generous, and the prices are reasonable. Cat and I come here a lot when looking for immediate dining gratification after a long day.
Imagine this; you're tired and hungry. It's late. The usual chain of predictable disasters occurred at the office, leaving you fighting fires for most of the morning. Worse yet, the afternoon dragged. At times it looked like the clock was actually moving backwards. The commute was a nightmare. The commute is always a nightmare. In a few short hours, your ass needs to be in bed so you can wake up and do it all over again. There's no way you're stepping into the kitchen. You want a hot meal right away. What are your options? Steam-table? Pre-made pizza by the slice? Heart-cloggers All-You-Can-Eat Buffet? McGreaseBurger King? Say it ain't so!
The beauty of Korean BBQ is that it's the fastest, freshly-cooked meal you're likely to find, and Korea House BBQ restaurant does it right. Just a few minutes after you place your order, you can eat! They've already sliced, marinated, or aged the meat. It's good quality stuff too. You just slap it onto the handy gas grill set in your table, which is already doing double duty warming you up from the winter chill, give it a few minutes with a flip in the middle, and presto! Smokin' hot meat and rice are making their way into your waiting belly.
Since the plates of meat at Korea House BBQ are intended for family-style meals, the portions are large. A good rule of thumb is one plate for every two people, unless you're literally hungry enough to eat a cow. Cat swears by the Ross Gui, which is our usual choice. The thin slices of rib eye steak, deliciously marbled, cook up like crisp pieces of beefy bacon. They're insanely good, particularly when brushed with the sesame oil and salt dipping sauce provided.
Elonweis goes for the Hweo Mit Gui, thin slices of beef tongue marinated in a sweet garlic and soy sauce. Surprisingly tender, the tongue cooks up like the softest roast beef and isn't gamey or bloody. It's a very delicate flavor.
If I'm eating with a guy, they invariably want short ribs. But, rather than go with the standard Gal Bi (Marinated Cross-cut Short Ribs), I usually steer them towards the Ju Mul Luk, which are the thicker slabs of rib meat above the bones. They're marinated in the same sauce, but the Ju Mul Luk have more marbling and a lot less connective tissue, making them much less chewy. Plus, some of my friends have trouble dealing with the bone pieces in the Gal Bi.
(Lunch portion pictured.)
Another guy favorite is the Bulgogi, shreds of rib eye steak marinated in the ubiquitous garlic sauce. They're normally a crowd-pleaser, since they're a little cheaper than the most of the other offerings and are easy to eat over rice.
If I'm eating alone, I splurge and get myself some Sae Woo (Marinated Shrimp). A brief sear over the grill makes them juicy and plump, with just the right bit of char on the outside.
The best part about eating Korean BBQ is that your meal is guaranteed to be nutritionally balanced. Every meal comes with a startling number of Banchan, Korean sautéed or pickled vegetable side dishes. Occasionally they'll contain a little fish, meat, or egg, but the purpose here is to give you lots of vegetables to eat with your meat. The line-up is never exactly the same, since it will feature whatever fresh items the kitchen has to offer. However, the variety will always be dazzling. Plus, you get unlimited refills of Banchan. It's all-you-can-eat veggies!
The question of whether or not to order a spicy soup is always something I agonize over. On one hand, nothing lights a fire in your belly when it's cold like a bowl of bubbling soup laced with Kochukaru (Korean Chili Flakes). On the other hand, a plate of meat and a pot of soup are way too much food for two people. However, if you've got three or more, forgo a second plate of meat and get a soup. Your body will thank you.
Cat and Elonweis both seem partial to the Hae Mul Soon Tofu, a pot of clams, shrimp and silken tofu swimming in a sea of beef broth napalm. The version at Korea House BBQ isn't a good as the types offered by a soft tofu restaurant. However, the soup is still a warming treat spooned over rice or sipped straight. I like the Al Chi Ge (Cod Roe Soup), which replaces the tofu with cod ovaries that are both soft and crunchy at the same time.
Where Korea House BBQ shines is with their Min Uh Maewon Tang (Chilean Sea Bass Hot Pot). The chunks of moist Chilean sea bass are just a garnish. What I'm after is the savory elixir they're bobbing around in. I don't know what strange voodoo the restaurant uses to make this intensely flavored soup, but it makes my eyes tear up in both pain and joy when I eat it.
I usually visit Korea House BBQ for my grilled meat and soup fix. However, there are times, such as when I'm dining alone or the weather is too warm, when I'll order something else. The Gun Mandu (Potstickers), for example, make a light and affordable dinner when eaten with rice and Banchan. Korean potstickers are large and meaty, but mild in flavor and closer to Japanese gyoza than Chinese guotie.
If I'm in the mood for grilled fish, I get the Eemyunsu Gui, which is a whole, butterflied and broiled mackerel. The fish's oily flesh and natural sourness are great over rice. A little lemon juice over the top helps to cut the richness.
If it's hot, I get the Bibim Neng Myun, cold buckwheat noodles with pork, Asian pear, cucumber, and daikon in a lava-like sweet and spicy sauce. This dish cools you down by making you sweat, which helps your body get rid of heat and makes you feel cooler. Many of the ingredients are considered to have cooling Yin properties in traditional Chinese medicine. It's also delicious, although the chewiness of the buckwheat noodles can take some getting used to.
(San Che Bi Bim Bap - A rice bowl with sautéed fresh vegetables and ground meat.)
Korea House BBQ - My choice for dinner on the go. The perfect place for hot, filling, and healthy food on any night.
Ross Gui - 19.99
Hweo Mit Gui - 20.99
Ju Mul Luk - 21.99
Bulgogi - 17.99
Sae Woo - 21.99
Hae Mul Soon Tofu - 9.99
Al Chi Ge - 14.99
Min Uh Maewon Tang - 14.99
Gun Mandu - 7.99
Eemyunsu Gui - 14.99
Bibim Neng Myun - 8.99
San Che Bi Bim Bap - 10.99
Korea House BBQ
5305 University Dr
Irvine, CA 92612