East of East Dining Series: Gangnam Korean BBQ
Gangnam Korean BBQ
1261 Barrington St, Halifax
Korean Barbecue is perhaps the most approachable of Korean dining experiences for the uninitiated. At least, it seems to be popular in Halifax and that’s a good indicator of the gateway for timid palates. As far as I know, there are 5 restaurants offering Korean BBQ in Halifax: Gangnam Korean BBQ, Bi One Korean BBQ, Song’s, Seoul, and Arisu Table BBQ & Sushi Bar.
I’m generally not a fan of the tabletop grill style of dining, but I recall a pleasant experience at Calgary’s Seoul Korean BBQ where I sat with my friend Daeyong, drinking an endless supply of soju and grilling a delicious marinated rib eye.
I was hoping for a similar experience in Halifax, so I recruited some foodie friends who had attended Podcamp with me, and off we went to Gangnam Korean BBQ. I had heard many great reviews so I was excited to try it out. Despite a poor performance on the Ramen Quest, I had vowed to return to try the Korean fare.
I excitedly ordered a Sapporo, and we got the Spicy Rice Cake ($7.99) to start.
This is a dish of Korean rice cakes and fish cakes, with a bit of veggies, in a spicy sauce. This popular style of Korean rice cake is called garae-tteok, and they are cylindrical morsels of chewy, starchy goodness. The fish cakes were the expected dense, compressed surimi variety, but this was my first time having them in the form of thin sheets. I enjoyed the play of textures and the spicy backdrop.
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While the spicy rice cakes were pleasing enough, I couldn’t help but notice the lacklustre banchan. In Korean cuisine, banchan are small side dishes always served in accompaniment to a meal. They are typically fermented, stir-fried or marinated things, like varieties of kimchi or bean sprouts in sesame oil. Both examples were served here as banchan, but in the middle of the dish was over-boiled frozen broccoli with a sauce drizzled over it, and this struck us as particularly half-assed.
For our barbecue portion of the meal, we ordered the Pork Belly and Beef Bulgogi Combo (for 4) ($79.99). Our server came over and dumped some vegetables onto our table grill: sliced mushrooms, red onion, pumpkin, green pepper and whole cloves of garlic. What you see on the picture below is the entirety of vegetables we were given, and they would prove to be quite scarce. Our server then started piling the grill with pork belly, and there was plenty of that.
We were each given a generous bowl of rice and cup of dipping sauce, but very little lettuce with which to wrap and eat our meats. The pork belly was rather plain on its own, but the sauce was delicious. The sauce was probably the best part of the meal.
I was disappointed that the server had full control of the grill. A big part of my enjoyment of Korean barbecue is grilling my own meat at the table, and I looked on helplessly at the overcrowded grill.
Furthermore, I felt that the overcrowded grill was a risk for cross contamination. As you can see, the cooked pork belly and vegetables were moved to a pile in the middle of the grill while the raw beef was added to the sides, with the marinade oozing everywhere. I didn’t feel comfortable finishing my meal until all of the meat was thoroughly cooked. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem for 2 people, but I dunno… I almost wanted a second grill for the table.
In either case, I did not care for the beef bulgogi. The marinade was faint and betrayed a “tired” beef taste. It needed plenty of dipping sauce to make it palatable.
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This was not my ideal Korean BBQ experience. It could have been improved with: more veggies, more lettuce, DIY grilling, better bulgogi and more effort put into the banchan.
I know ya’ll have love for Gangnam but I’m on the hunt for a better Korean BBQ in Halifax. Has anyone tried the tabletop barbecue at Bi One or Arisu? What is your favourite Korean BBQ in Halifax?
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