Gyu-Kaku (It’s ok if you don’t know how to pronounce it)
After all the years of eating at this place, I still don’t really know what the correct pronunciation of the restaurant’s name is. But, does it really matter if I know how to pronounce it or not? As long as I know that they have good food, in a really cool cooking set up, that’s really all that matters.
Many moons ago, while I was still in college, a friend of mine invited me to meet her at Gyu-Kaku’s West LA location for dinner. She assured me it was a really cool place to have dinner and that I’d like it. Even though I had been to Westside Pavillion many times, I’d never noticed this place before. Situated right across the street from the mall, this place is a hidden gem among a row of nondescript stores.
So what is Gyu-Kaku? Gyu-Kaku is a Japanese yakiniku restaurant. What’s yakiniku? Literally translated from Japanese, yakiniku means “grilled meat”. In the States, it has become synonymous with Japanese BBQ, very similar to Korean BBQ, but adapted to Japanese tastes. Unlike a Korean BBQ restaurant that serves AYCE (all you can eat), at a yakiniku restaurant such as Gyu-Kaku, you order small prepared dishes of raw ingredients that are brought to your table through the course of your meal. These raw ingredients are cooked by the diner on a grill. The finished ingredients are then dipped in sauces known as tare before being eaten.
This style of cooking is a really fun social way of cooking your food and interacting with the people you are dining with. And to boot, the food is good. You order only what you can eat, you cook it the way you want it done, and you dip it in a variety of sauces that meet your tastes. When I introduced my husband to Gyu-Kaku, he instantly liked it. I knew that since he liked being able to fondue food at The Melting Pot, he would probably like Gyu-Kaku. Admittedly, the West LA location is a bit of a hole-in-the-wall in terms of the ambience of the restaurant. The restaurant itself is tiny, and probably only seats about 20-30 guests, so reservations are a must. And with a space that small, that almost always means that you’re seated so close to the people dining next to you. But the experience of cooking your own food quickly erases any reservations you may have of the restaurant itself.
The menu offering is great. There’s a wide variety of different cuts of beef you can order, along with a selection of chicken, and all sorts of seafood. To compliment the meats, there’s a wide array of different types of vegetables you can order to grill as well. There’s also other dishes that you can order, such as appetizers, and noodles and rice dishes that add to your meal. There’s really a little something for everyone to like.
When my husband and I go to Gyu-Kaku we like to start our meal off with some of their non-grilled items. The chicken garlic noodles are really great. They are super yummy Okinawan noodles that are fried with chicken and a garlic bbq sauce. The dish is served in a piping hot cast iron pot that continues to cook the noodles even when they are brought out to your table. The crispy, crusty noodles that stick to the cast iron are the bits that my husband and I love. And this dish is perfect if you love garlic. You really taste the garlic in the noodles. We also really like their shrimp bibimbap, which consists of shrimp, onions, garlic sauce, green onions and rice. It’s essentially their version of shrimp fried rice. Like the chicken garlic noodles, it is also served in a piping hot cast iron pot. So all the crusty bits of fried rice that stick to the clay pot is what my husband and I fight over!
Then comes the good stuff, the meats and veggies that we actually get to grill! The harami miso skirt steak is really good – and apparently their best seller! The garlic shrimp is popular with my husband. We tend to also order the chicken tenders just to have a variety of meats. Usually 3-5 plates of the meats/seafood seem to be good for the 2 of us. We usually stay away from the really exotic meats like beef tongue! (Remember, I’m not an adventurous eater!)
We also make sure to get some veggies too, because face it, grilled veggies are pretty good, and they’re healthy. Makes us feel a little less guilty about just having straight up meat! The sweet onion is one of my favorites, but I’m an onion lover to begin with. You basically get 3 huge rings of sweet onion that has a bit of what is probably soy sauce poured over it and topped with sesame seeds. The broccoli with cheese is pretty tasty (it’s what my husband wanted), as is the garlic spinach. (As you can see, my husband and I really like garlic.)
Of course, when you’re grilling food, the perfect dessert to finish off your meal has got to be s’mores! At Gyu-Kaku, when you order s’mores, they take the grill plate off your grill so that you can stick your marshmallows on their metal forks and put it right up next to the flame. You brown your marshmallow a bit (or a lot like my husband likes them). Then you stack Hershey’s chocolate on top of the graham cracker, side your melted marshmallow on top of the chocolate, top the whole thing off with another graham cracker, and there you have it; s’mores! Just like around the campfire.
Admittedly, Gyu-Kaku is not an everyday kind of place to go and eat. It’s more suited to every once in a while. When you order the food, it never sounds like that much, but it gets filling quickly. But it’s so much fun to sit around and just be able to grill your own food and eat it. And the food’s really good too, so there’s no going wrong!