Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Korean BBQ wars:
Gui Rim 2 vs Tahoe Galbi vs Mu Deung San

In the best interest of "mixing it up", our group has decided - yes. We have graduated from Manna. We will miss you, rude waitresses that pretended that you didn't see us frantically waving at you, the oversized groups with the showers of champagne and most of all, the crazy techno birthday song sung by heavily accented Korean girls (happy boisday?). Our graduation is a sweet one -how could it not be when the spoils are sweet sweet meat. YES there IS somewhere else to go if we gots to get our meat on.
After doing my best to search that wild world of foodblogging out there, the general concensus for All you can eat Korean BBQ comes down to Gui Rim 2, Tahoe Galbi and Mu Deung San. So within a span of a few weeks, I went to ALL THREE of these places (yeah that's not too healthy. Really not healthy. Do NOT try this at home.)...So now it's the battle of the bulge - who will win supreme?!!

Up first is Gui Rim 2.

I have to mention this: what is up with the name of this place?? I can't help but be immature a giggle a little bit when I mention it. But yes, getting past that point, Gui Rim 2 is a small little space - I'd say it would fit ONE group of 10-12. There's no parking, so you're on your own for street parking on Western (the wild west of meter parking). Upon entering, I had a very friendly guy (the owner?) ask me, how many...IN ENGLISH. Awesome!! This was a very english-speakers friendly place in general. The waiter we had was informative, answered any questions we had, all in fluent english. The waitress that didn't know english very well tried very politely to communicate and did a good job playing charades.

Now to the grill itself:

A nice slated grill, powered by gas but with a huge lump of charcoal at the bottom! That charcoal really adds something to the flavor of the meat, I think. Otherwise, the flame is powered by gas.
Next up is the banchan. I know a lot of people are very very particular about what kind of banchan is laid out beforehand, but personally, as long as there is kimchi, sprouts, some sort of Korean potato salad (the ones with potato AND apple is especially nice, not drenched in mayo, please!) Gui Rim has decent, if not spectacular, banchan. Most importantly they have RICE PAPER - the thin sheets of noodle that you wrap a tender, just grilled piece of meat, with some bean paste, a jalepeno and a garlic clove and you have a little slice of heaven...well let's see some more.
Gui Rim's major flaw is their salad. This was just...okay. Blah. Shredded romaine lettuce with a bit of dressing, a tiny bit of red pepper flakes is not BAD it's just...rabbit food edible. I like me some mixed greens myself, but the salad did its' job...which was prepare your stomach for the onslaught of meat. And...ah...afterwards too...well you get my meaning.
A beautiful plate of Gui Rim's "Set A" meat platter. Thin meats and thick meats - kalbi. Deliciously marinated, amazing pleasing placement of meat, this was met with agreeable nods as it was placed on the table. I especially liked...
...the thin meats. They were not frozen - they were simply thinly sliced, fresh meat - as it should be. A few cloves of garlic and a jalepeno here and there, for good measure. The garlic is so perfect when its heated over the grill, to mellow out the sharpness. Throw that with some grilled meat and we're good to go!!
Here's Gui Rim's kalbi. The marinade was very good, sweet, and gave the meat such a great flavor when grilled. This was what meat was MEANT to taste like. The pieces weren't cut too big, had those nice crisped up edges from the heat.

The next contender up to bat is Tahoe Galbi.

Tahoe Galbi has a nice parking lot, with nimble valet guys who are quick and efficient. Walking into Tahoe Galbi is like walking into an asian pink palace - the walls are a neutral pink tone, the decor is slightly nicer. We had a large group and had made reservations, so they put us into a more secluded private room, split between another large group. Huge vents above the grills promoted a lot of ventilation - I have to admit, I didn't feel so "covered in head to toe smell of Korean BBQ meats" afterwards, as much as the other places anyways. The entrance-way is crowded with huge groups of people waiting and mesmorized by the flat screen monitors.

Once seated, I was very pleased to see some good banchan. Some notable dishes were the broccoli with cauliflower - with a squirt of hot sauce (what isn't better with some hot sauce?? Even a taco bell taco is edible with hot sauce), glassy noodles (chop chae? I think?) and that delicious Korean potato salad. This is what I'm talking about - seriously, so good, this is probably the best one out of the three if it was a Korean potato salad contest.
Now, to the meats. The thin meats were the frozen roll kind - they touch the hot grill (gas powered) and instantly start to thaw and cook at the same time. Gotta be careful to keep an eye on the meat though - I don't mind it getting a bit overcooked and crispy, but when it gets burned, it's no good for anything except to line the trash can.

Here's some kalbi - again, marinated, with a great flavor.

Here's a close's definitely love.

I like the grill at Tahoe Galbi, because of the little dam they have on the edge of it, to roast your garlic and jalepeno at a lower heat. All the meat juices pool in the edges, and further flavor the garlic. It's great.

Now to the last contender - Mu Deung San.

Mu Deung San's location, in the shadow of Koreatown's Galleria, is cozy - a small parking lot, with skilled parking dudes, manages to park way more cars than possible in that space. The restaurant itself is populated with booths. Each table only has one grill - so, from 2 people to 8 people- tough love, you're still grilling off one grill. Which makes it harder to keep the food availability constant - if you're the cook (which I usually am, because I think it's fun) you just don't get to eat as much because you're constantly cooking - once something is done, everyone eats, it's all gone so you gotta throw some more meat on the grill. Maybe that's good for my health but that's not really why I'm AT Korean BBQ right?
Banchan - the usual suspects are here, but NO KOREAN POTATO SALAD. A travesty. The kimchi was especially good but I wish it was cut up a little more. It's hard to cut big pieces of napa cabbage with chopsticks...
More banchan. The potato-starch object to substitute for the lack of my dear Korean potato salad was the dish in the middle - a soy sauce flavored cubed potato dish. It was okay - would have been better in a potato salad though! Yes I am obsessed.
Their salad is pretty decent, with different kind of lettuces (red leaf, green leaf, unidentified leaf) and curls of green onion, with a sweet savory sauce. We asked for many refills of this plate. Thin meats are up next. Here was what I was talking about earlier with the frozen rolls of meat, which sizzle and cook instantly as they hit the grill.
Here's some kalbi, and we had bulgogi as well, which I forgot to take a picture of. The bulgolgi was really good - sweet, crumbly meat. This is the first Korean BBQ place where I've gotten bolgolgi that I cook myself. It turned out pretty well!
And here's the money shot - delicious kalbi, ready to quickly snatch from the grill with your chopsticks. Beautiful.

So who comes out on top, from all of these great all you can eat bbq places? Well, honestly, all of them have their pros and cons - but you never leave hungry from any of them, which is what you go in there for. I'd have to say, from a completely biased standpoint - I would pick Gui Rim 2 the winner in this challenge. The addition of the charcoal, the fresh thin meats, and the friendly service pushed this place on top of the heap. But really, you never lose if you go to grill some meat with friends!
Gui Rim 2
233 S Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 365-9992

Mu Deung San
Western and Olympic - really close to Koreatown Galleria

Tahoe Galbi
3986 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010


Anonymous said...

I love this site. I check out a lot of the different restaurants you say is good. Did you know that Manna has a button to push when you need anything from the waitresses? And they usually come right away.

heysandra said...

THANK YOU for the support! This food blog is one of my favorite things (yes, sometimes I neglect it) but hearing these kind of comments makes me feel more inspired to keep posting! Thank you again!

And yes, Manna has a button that you can push to get their attention but usually I've found that I've been ignored more than once. Thumbs down boo. Not to say that I won't go to Manna again - there's almost a nostalgic factor to it.