Last July, I organized my quarterly "Quartet" dining series for my group and this time around, we focused on checking out 4 Korean BBQ restaurants, one a week for a whole month. The chosen four were: ChoSun Galbee, Shik Do Rak, Soot Bull Jeep and Sa Rit Gol. Considering that there are over 600 hundred restaurants in Koreatown, with quite a few of them being Korean BBQ places, it was hard to narrow them down. Eventually, after a lot of research (Chowhound, opinions, articles, food critics), I chose the four restaurants that I felt each had something unique to offer.
First up was ChoSun Galbee. I chose ChoSun Galbee because of the fact that it has the reputation of being a great Korean BBQ starter restaurant. You won't find unusual or exotic kinds of meats on the menu, so for someone new to Korean BBQ, they won't be immediately put off. Instead, they'll have the choice of grilled beef, chicken or seafood. Also, depending on how busy the restaurant is, the wait staff will even grill your meats for you, which is less added pressure.
The restaurant space itself is beautiful. The outside waiting area has bamboo, lots of greenery and koi fish. The outdoor patio is cocooned also with lots of plants both inside and outside the area and the restaurant interior is comprised of brown leathers, warm wood paneling and cream walls. It's definitely on the higher-end of the Korean BBQ restaurant spectrum.
As for the food, what you will get are good quality meats to grill with and panchan that is flavorful, if not unique. I can say this now, especially after having already experienced the other three Korean BBQ restaurants that came after ChoSun Galbee. For our particular visit to Chosun Galbee, we had the short rib cubes, the bulgogi as well as the cold noodles with hot and spicy sauce. All the dishes were tasty and I really had no complaints, but were any of them really memorable? Not really. However, after everything is said and done, I would go back. While I may not have been wowed, at least, I know that any return visit would garner me a good meal and with a pretty space like ChoSun Galbee, you can't ask for more than that.
A week later, our second foray into Korean BBQ happened at Shik Do Rak. Before finding out about Shik Do Rak, my idea of how to eat Korean BBQ generally involved wrapping the meat and any other goodies inside a large lettuce wrap. Than I heard about dduk bo rak. For those of you who don't know, dduk bo rak are oiled rice noodles. Sometimes they are cut round like coasters and other times, they are square shapes like won ton wrappers. Shik Do Rak is known for their dduk bo rak, which is something different, and that's why it made it in my top four.
ChoSun Galbee and Shik Do Rak are definitely from two very different worlds. ChoSun Galbee, with its elegance, is a restaurant you'd bring business associates to, or a date or have special celebrations at. Shik Do Rak is definitely more casual a place you'd take friends or family to who don't really want or expect anything fancy.
After enjoying a good, if not spectacular meal at ChoSun Galbee, I had very high hopes for Shik Do Rak. Sad to say, those hopes were dashed. First off, let's talk about the panchan. Appearance-wise, everything looked uninspired as if it was just slopped into the little serving bowls. Unfortunately, the flavors were all uninspired as well. There was just no punch to any of the panchan items. Even the kimchee seemed one-note to me, more vinegary than anything else. I was also disappointed in the meat. The meat was a little more fatty than I would have liked and this could be just a preference thing, but none of the meat we ordered was marinated. If I wanted to just shave off pieces of meat to grill, I could have done that at home. For me, it's the marinade that makes Korean BBQ special and there was definitely nothing special about the meat we were grilling.
The one dish I did really like was this green onion or scallion pancake we ordered. That was awesome. The pancake was chock full of veggies and even topped with a couple of chile pepper slices to give it a little vavoom. As for the dduk bo rak, I'm going to pass on it. I didn't care for it that much. It was too small to wrap anything of substance inside plus it would tear. I also didn't like the fact that this oiled noodle seemed too oily and too slippery. Give me good old-fashioned lettuce anytime. In short, there were more cons than pros for me in regards to Shik Do Rak, so I wouldn't make a return visit anytime soon.
So far, one hit and one miss and the third week brings us to Soot Bull Jeep. I've been hearing about Soot Bull Jeep for years, but just hadn't made it out there. I'm so glad that I finally visited this popular, and rightly so, Korean BBQ eatery. One thing I was glad about was that I had taken the advice of others who had visited this place before and wore clothes that definitely were not my best. While both ChoSun Galbee and Shik Do Rak had gas grills, Soot Bull Jeep utilized natural charcoal, which will definitely leave you and your clothes very fragrant once you leave the restaurant. It's because of the fact that Soot Bull Jeep uses charcoal that it became part of this quartet.
After my last Korean BBQ outing, Soot Bull Jeep was heaven sent. After the disappointing panchan at Shik Do Rak, I was much happier with what Soot Bull Jeep had to offer. Soot Bull Jeep had some panchan similar to Shik Do Rak, but definitely a lot better in quality and flavor. There were also a couple of items that weren't at our two previous restaurants like the scallion salad, which I think had specks of dried chili and was dressed in some kind of vinegar-sugar concoction. At least, that's what memory brings to mind. Than there was also a cold kimchee soup, which was actually kind of refreshing to sip in between eating the hot meats.
As for the meats, all I have to say is "Wow!" The marinades that were used really gave flavor to the meat and then cooking them over the charcoal also gave the meats a smokiness that was ultra appealing. I also think that the meat just browned better, if that makes sense. There's just a different texture that meat gets when cooked over charcoal versus a gas grill. Whether it was chicken, beef or pork, you just didn't go wrong. I enjoyed my meal from start to finish and I would definitely return to Soot Bull Jeep.
Finally, our Korean BBQ foursome ends with Sa Rit Gol. When I had read about Sa Rit Gol, the one thing that stood out from all the writings is that they are known for their excellent panchan and I can definitely see why now. The cool thing about Sa Rit Gol is that there were things that we ate and drank that you didn't see at either of the three previous restaurants.
For example, upon our arrival, instead of water, we all got iced barley tea, which by the way, was very refreshing. While the panchan included the potato salad, mung beans and cabbage kimchee that seems to be the standard, we also were treated to marinated watercress, a "greens" kimchee (maybe, spinach?) and a squash salad. All the panchan were absolutely delicious with lots of flavor and a kickiness to them. Of the four restaurants, I enjoyed Sa Rit Gol's kimchee the best. Just looking at the deep red of the sauce, you already know that their kimchee was going to give you a great mouth zing.
As for our meats, one of the things we ordered was a short rib, which while not marinated, was very good. Unlike the other meats at the other three restaurants, this short rib was cooked while still on the bone with garlic and with a sprinkle of sea salt. I'm not sure if leaving the bone intact makes a difference or not, but even without marinade, the meat was really tasty. Before eating, our waitress actually cut the meat off the bone and in pieces, so that we wouldn't have any trouble eating it.
Other grilled meats that we ordered included thinly sliced beef that was cooked with onions and garlic, bulgogi and spicy pork. All the meats were excellent and you can really tell that the meat quality was above par. While the meats at Shik Do Rak could have improved ten-fold with some kind of marinade, the ones that didn't have marinade at Sa Rit Gold still would have made the meal.
Along with the barbecue, we also ordered a mung bean pancake, which I enjoyed, but believe it or not, I liked the one at Shik Do Rak better, but considering that everything else met and exceeded my expectations, I'm not going to cry over one mung bean pancake. Finally, our meal ended with an iced honey tea, which was a nice way to cleanse our palate
Overall, this was a wonderful "Quartet." It was a great way to compare similar foods and to see how much the same or different they are from each other and the same goes for the 4 restaurants where we did our "Korean BBQ" tastings for the whole month of July. Even all the grills differ between ChoSun Galbee, Shik Do Rak, Soot Bull Jeep and Sa Rit Gol, from shape to gas vs. charcoal. After my Korean BBQ restaurant journey, I definitely can rank them in order of preference. You probably can already tell from all musings above, but just so you know for sure, take a look below:
Soot Bull Jeep – Yes, I'd definitely go back.
3136 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
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Sa Rit Gol – Yes, I'd definitely go back.
3189 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90006
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Chosun Galbee – Yes, I'd go back.
3330 W. Olympic Boulevard,
Los Angeles, California 90019
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Shik Do Rak – No, I'd pass.
2501 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
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