I had always heard about how amazing Gyu-kaku is from my friends, but I never tried it out until recently. It is a do-it-yourself Japanese BBQ (yakiniku) restaurant. I first went with a friend from middle school, Caroline, because a restaurant opening we went to ONLY served booze and tiny specks of food on spoons. So of course we ditched the restaurant opening and went to Gyu-kaku for their happy hour. When we walked in, there were tables with these circular BBQ roasters, and the smell of deliciously marinated meat filled the air. Thankfully, the roasters are all smokeless, but unfortunately, all the tables were full so we headed upstairs to the “bar” where there were apparently more tables. Caroline had been there countless times already so she was quite adept at ordering her favorites for us.
The garlic rice (Figure 1) was probably my favorite (especially after having more than my fill of drinks at the restaurant opening). This steaming bowl of garlic rice became crispy after letting it sit for a couple minutes in the piping hot bowl (it’s the same concept as bibimbop). I was so impatient because the tempting aroma of the garlic and green onion seemed to just take over my senses!
This past Friday, I took Andrew, my boyfriend, there for his first time. We went for the happy hour (look at the below TIPS for times), and ordered the Samurai Course, which includes appetizers, meat and dessert for 2 people. On top of that, we ordered the pork belly, shishito peppers and some drinks.
To begin, I ordered a Lychee Mojito (Figure 2). Wow. They put lychee in the drink, and it literally made me feel like I should be on a tropical island somewhere. I am not quite sure if there was any alcohol in there at all, though… Could have had an entire bucket of that! At only $5.95, this drink was quite the steal!
Then came our appetizers of miso soup (Figure 3a) and the Gyu-Kaku salad (Figure 3b). Although the miso soup wasn’t anything special, it was a great starter since we had just walked in the cold. By the end of that comforting bowl, I was ready for the fresh-looking salad, which was certainly unique. It had the normal mixed greens, hard-boiled eggs and tomatoes, but they added a miso-based dressing on top of a big pile of daikon (white radish), which were delectable!
At this point, Andrew ordered some Hatsukuru Draft Sake (Figure 4), which is served cold and has a sharp taste. I am not exactly a sake guru, but this type of sake should be drunk with sweet/sour foods or when it is hot out. Since we were starting to feel the heat on our faces from the roaster, this was the perfect time to order it. However, I was not satisfied with the sake (probably because I’m not a true sake drinker).
In any case, the taste of sake left me as the pork belly, Kalbi short rib, Harami skirt steak, shrimp and basil chicken (Figure 5 & 6) were brought out. As a carnivore, my mouth was already watering looking at the raw meat. So I immediately took the tongs and started roasting the meat according to our helpful waiter’s directions. To my semi-disappointment, the pork belly wasn’t too special, and to my severe disappointment, the basil chicken was terribly dry and flavorless. On the upside, the sauces on the Kalbi short rib and Harami skirt steak were more than enjoyable! The short rib and steak were so tender and tasty—I definitely recommend ordering these. And shrimp is just shrimp (they take a bit longer to cook).
Believe it or not, I have never had a Mai Tai before, so I just had to try one when I saw it on the menu. Perhaps it’s just my tastes for girly drinks, but my Mai Tai (Figure 7a) tasted like watered-down whiskey. So I had to ask the waiter to switch it for his recommendation of a White Peach Cosmo (figure 7b). The peach taste really stood out, and I loved the drink! For all those who enjoy “girly drinks”, YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS!!!
Our bibimbop (Figure 8) was brought out by our waiter, who mixed all the contents together. After pushing as much as he could along the edges of the bowl, we waited for the rice to get crispy. Then we dug in! Just like the garlic rice, this is absolutely amazing and a definite must-have!
On a side note, we got a platter of assorted vegetables (Figure 9).
Lastly, we got our S’mores (Figure 10). I don’t think S’mores could go wrong unless you completely burn the marshmallow. With the lowered heat on the roaster, we were able to roast our marshmallows to a perfect golden brown and make the ultimate S’more. Make sure you watch your marshmallow, though—as it roasts, it starts “drooping” a bit off the fork, and you won’t want to lose half your marshmallow in the roaster!
- Go during happy hour for 30-50% off (even drinks!):
Everyday: 11:30am – 3pm, 3pm – 6pm
Mon.-Thurs.: After 9:30pm
Fri. & Sat.: After 10pm
- Make sure you make a reservation, especially if you are going for happy hour. Otherwise, the wait may get up to an hour!
- If you are hungry, do get the samurai course! It will definitely fill you up unless you literally have a bottomless pit for a stomach.
- In case you do not get the samurai course, some of my favorite dishes and drinks are:
Garlic rice, Kalbi short rib, Harami skirt steak, Lychee mojito, White peach cosmo, S’mores
- Explore the other dishes! I have definitely not tried all of the dishes, so order what you like and decide for yourself what is delicious and not!
The concept of this restaurant is absolutely amazing. It is extremely hands on, giving customers a fun learning experience (especially if you normally don’t cook). I am giving a rating of an almost full “evolutionary history” because the outstanding wait staff, exciting experience and appetizing foods by far outweigh the couple not-so-impressive dishes.