At Gin Korean BBQ, get ready to grill.
The blank facade of this Fat City restaurant doesn't suggest much about what's inside. But as soon as diners enter, the aromas of sweet, sizzling meat, garlic and chilies let them know what's in store.
Tableside grilling, the trademark of Korean barbecue restaurants, is the main focus here. Every table is equipped with a grill, and while the menu includes a short selection of appetizers, diners expecting a wide array of Korean dishes may be disappointed.
A selection of banchan — items such as kimchi or other pickled and fermented vegetables to complement other dishes — appears within minutes of sitting down. The small dishes may hold sweet pickled daikon radishes cut into thin spears or crunchy slices. Three types of vegetables get the kimchi treatment: cucumber, thick wedges of daikon and Napa cabbage — each one a fiery, fermented medley that offers a touch of heat and funk. I didn't care for a bland potato salad or the lukewarm edamame, but the restaurant is generous with the banchan offerings, and there are many options from which to choose.
Fried pork dumplings are served with a bowl of crimson chili oil, one of the most addictive versions I've come across recently. The fiery dipping sauce also accompanies a spongy seafood pancake studded with squid, shrimp and green onions, which arrives slick with oil and crispy from the pan.
Korean-style barbecue can feel like dinner theater when a server is in charge and more like a do-it-yourself campfire when diners do the cooking. The setup at Gin mostly adheres to the latter, and for those comfortable with grilling, the experience can be fun. Like any backyard grill, these hearths require constant attention, especially with thinner cuts of meat that cook quickly. Those squeamish about the process might want to bring a dinner companion who is more eager about the constant prodding and flipping.
There is a large selection of meats, and picking one or two options should suffice for two people. Each selection is served with a green salad, rice and vegetables to grill. For more adventurous and hungry diners, the combination options are a good way to sample a wider variety of cuts. They cost roughly $45 to $50 for two people.
Popular Korean options include galbi, garlicky beef short ribs, and bulgogi, thinly sliced marinated cuts of meat that have a spicy and sweet finish when grilled. There also are thin strips of beef tongue (hyeomit gui), which curl within seconds on the grill and are delicious. Also good is the spicy marinated pork belly (samgyeopsal) with fatty bits that sizzle and crisp on the grill. Razor-thin slices of beef brisket (chadolbagi) also cook in less than a minute, wilting into tender, fatty strips that practically melt in your mouth.
Diners are mostly on their own, but servers pass by occasionally to change grills or adjust the heat. Guests who are unable to finish the meat in the combo deals can have the kitchen grill the rest of their food and pack it to go.
Gin Korean BBQ joins a growing number of Korean restaurants in the metro area and provides an entertaining and tasty take on the tableside grilling trend.