Our last adventures in Garden Grove Koreatown were not very happy (that would be at Light Town House, and a quick search will bring you all the unhappy details you could want), but we persevered.
This time it was to go to Cham Sut Gol on the advice of a Korean acquaintance. You do need to find it -- while the sign is right there on the corner of GG Blvd. and Casa Linda Lane, the restaurant itself is quite far back in the complex -- the easiest way to find it (and park) is to turn south on Casa Linda, turn right at the first driveway, and then right past the first building. It'll be on your right, but it's not labelled as "Cham Sut Gol" in English, only Korean, and "Korean B.B.Q." in English. We walked in at 18.30 and -- there was hardly a soul, what in French we would call "quatre pelés et un tondu". Yikes.
Then we started getting the "white folks" treatment. Banchan came, but none with any spice. Broccoli with a cute little (and I do mean little) artistic dollop of chili sauce, mul kimchi (radishes in "agrodolce" -- vinegar and sugar), bean sprouts in sesame oil, potato salad, japchae (noodles) and lettuce salad, along with a dish with two slices of jalapeno in soy sauce and a dish of plain-old-chili-sauce-out-of-a-Chinese-jar. When I handed back the forks and asked for actual kimchi, it arrived quickly -- along with konjac in chili oil, oisebagi (stuffed cucumbers in chili sauce), deep-fried tiny fish, cucumber wraps and dduk (rice wraps), and salt-pepper-sesame oil and the more usual dish of chilies, garlic slices and hot bean paste, along with some perilla leaf. Now THAT is what I'm talking about.
We ordered set menu A, which was unmarinated thin beef round, marinated pork belly and "short rib cubes", plus tofu soup and "egg pot", and a bottle of beer or soju (I picked O.B. beer.)
The place advertises charcoal barbecue but no charcoal was in evidence. I wish it had been there, but it was plenty tasty without -- mostly.
The thin beef was fairly good -- since it was unmarinated it needed the full KBBQ treatment. The pork belly was excellent (marinated at the table in hot chili oil) -- just be careful of the little tiny piece of unchewable connective tissue on each one. The "short rib cubes" were very, VERY well-marbled pieces of kalbi, cut off the bone -- picture the prime beef (not the Kobe) at Park's BBQ cut into cubes and you've got the idea.
They came and interfered a couple of times with our cooking, but didn't bother me when I adjusted the gas flame myself. The grill was replaced twice (the second time was DURING the cooking of the kalbi, which annoyed the hell out of me because the new grill was freezing cold, of course, so no way to get a good seared-on-the-outside-damn-near-raw-on-the-inside piece of meat on the first go-round of kalbi).
The egg pot was an egg souffle, sort of, in a dol sot (stone pot) with some seafood broth to cook it. I liked it, my wife liked it, but we ceded nearly the entire thing to Die Ubertoddler, who sucked it down like it was the last meal she was ever likely to eat. (Seriously, that, rice and kimchi was her meal. She ignored the meat.)
The tofu soup was absolutely disgusting. I can't believe they served it. It was like a vaguely miso-flavoured salt lick. I felt like a friggin' deer on the two slurps ("that can't be right, let me try UGGGGGGGGGGGH forget it") I took.
So, to sum up: insist on real banchan, the meat was quite good, the kalbi was excellent, the egg pot yummy and the tofu soup absolutely a crime against soybeans. The service was okay (had to use the "get over here" button to pay the bill), and it had filled up by the time we left.
I'm going rate it, however, a "definitely try". Why, you ask?
Because all of that food, which was enough for three very hungry people and leftovers to take home, was $49.99. Not $50 plus drinks, not $50 plus you ordered more banchan and a pot of rice so we charged you extra, JUST $49.99. The bill was that one item plus 7.75% Orange County tax, so $53.86 plus tip. Based solely on the value-for-money-paid scale, you should try this place. There are other set meals (including a $17 all-you-can-eat of four or five meats), and of course you can do à la carte, but the value is there.
The restaurant is nicer than Shik Do Rak, the service is better, it's cheaper, and of course Light Town House can't hold a candle to it.
Park's it's not, nor Soot Bull Jeep -- but it's a damn sight closer than Park's and you don't smell like you've just come back from the Tour du Forest Fire like SBJ.
Cham Sut Gol
9252 Garden Grove Blvd # 10 Garden, Grove, CA
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