I’ll admit that I’m lazy. To me the whole point of going to a restaurant is to have someone else cook my meal. If I wanted to prepare a meal I’d stay home with a box of cheese and shells and the dulcimer sounds of the final seven “American Idol” hopefuls. Okay, maybe not dulcimer but you get my drift. Of course this was all before I heard of Gyu-Kaku (guy-u-cock-eww), a Japanese barbecue joint where you cook your own food right at the table.
When I first arrived at the restaurant I was pleasantly surprised to see a sea of young faces waiting for tables (make reservations). I have nothing against old people mind you but when I say it’s a hip joint I want people to be clear I’m talking about the restaurant and not the patron’s upcoming surgeries.
Gyu-Kaku’s cozy Asian décor is just two rice-paper walls and a large rock short of a Zen garden. Tables are small but comfortable and the hibachi set into their centers keeps you nice and toasty. You would expect the place to smell like a campfire but it doesn’t.
The specially designed inset barbecues come equipped with their own fume venting system. I was also told that the barbecue will shoot water up if you get a little overzealous with your cooking and try to set the place ablaze … I really wanted to try this but my better half advised me against it, she was probably right.
After I was seated I immediately ordered Sake Nigori, unfiltered sweet and cloudy sake that’s hard to find because it spoils if not drank soon after opening. The sake was served in a small wooden Japanese box to enhance its flavor; I don’t know if it did, but it was darn good.
Our waiter then explained how the meal works. Like tapas or sushi the portions are small and you’re meant to share several different dishes so you can try a few things, which is great for indecisive people like me.
We started out with an appetizer of green onion pancakes and crisp seaweed with cream cheese. As we toasted our pancakes on the grill, and rolled our mini fishless sushi rolls we thumbed through the menu choosing various meats, fish and vegetables to grill.
The waiter recommended I start out with a classic Japanese starter, grilled tongue. Now I know that to most of us the idea if eating tongue is somewhat, well, off-putting. I tried it and believe me you should too.
First off, it’s thinly sliced and in no way resembles anything even remotely tongue-like. Grilled quickly over the fire and squirted with lemon it was a perfect start to the main meal, and besides, how often can you tell someone you slipped your first date the tongue before you even finished the appetizers?
Next up, the Kobe Beef. Getting a chance to grill your own Kobe Beef is a rare experience. Kobe Beef is the highest-grade beef possible, bred from special cattle and raised on specific grains. It is truly hard to find delicacy that, despite what Patricia Heaton might tell you, cannot be bought at Albertsons.
Though expensive, it’s definitely worth the splurge, it’s unlike any other steak you’re likely to eat – with a rich marbling that literally melts in your mouth. To quote Mike Meyer’s character Linda Richman of mid-‘90s “Saturday Night Live,” it’s “like butta’.”
Let me take a moment to dwell on the Shrimp Garlic, it was amazing. Butterfly cut and grilled to perfection, thank you very much, it was the highlight of the meal. It was an excellent accompaniment to their extremely large house salad with their patented miso-mustard dressing.
After some seasoned and thoroughly marinated skirt steak and various grilled vegetables we were completely stuffed, but dessert was still to come. I had dorkai and green tea ice cream which are little grilled pancakes that you spread with red-bean paste and then top with ice cream. I’d like to see you try to get that at IHOP.
My girlfriend had the ultimate Japanese dessert, s’mores. She loved the fact that she could toast, and in my opinion utterly burn to a crisp, her own marshmallow. It brought her back to her not-that-far-off-youth, of campfires with her family and warm nights at Lake Powell. I scored major brownie points, no dessert pun intended.
As we exited the restaurant we got a hardy cheer from the waiters, everyone gets one, and a stick of melon gum – the perfect end to a perfect dinner.
A great place for a romantic date, Gyu-Kaku is surprisingly reasonably priced considering how much they must pay in fire insurance. If you’re heading out with the whole gang, be sure and check out their generous happy hour specials; 50% off selected entrees and $2 Kirin Draft Beer!
Where else besides your backyard can you simultaneously get drunk and impress your friends with your grilling skills? Once you try Gyu-Kaku Japanese B.B.Q. dining you’ll be the first to admit that it is truly as fun to eat as it is to say.
Gyu-Kaku has five locations in the greater L.A. area (Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Sherman Oaks, Torrance and West Los Angeles). For hours and more information, visit www.gyu-kaku.com.