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Gen Korean BBQ House & Yakitori Bar

October 22, 2014

When I was a little kid, my parents and I would often spend Saturday afternoons dining out at a Korean bbq house.  One of those places where it was all-you-can-eat and it’d be set up buffet style.  But instead of walking around from station to station filling your plate with salad fixings and other buffet items, here, the stations featured various types and cuts of meat marinated in Korean spices and marinade along with fresh-cut vegetables, all of which you’d then bring back to your table where a grill was set up in the middle of the table.  Then you’d take the meats you just put on your plate, and you’d start grilling.  So, you pick out your own meats, and you cook it yourself, and you could eat as much as your stomach could handle.  It was so much fun, and the food was so good, and my parents and I would find ourselves there at least once every few weeks – basically, every opportunity we had to go, we went.  Unfortunately, in my teen years, the popularity of the restaurant declined as other types of restaurants popped up, and eventually, the restaurant went out of business.  Ever since then, my parents have been in search of a new Korean bbq joint with a similar set up.

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A few months back, a friend of my parents told them about a Korean bbq restaurant that he had recently been to where you cook your own meats that he thought was amazing.  The restaurant was an all-you-can-eat place, but instead of you choosing your own meats and piling it on your plate, you actually ordered the meats off of a menu you were provided with, and the waiters and waitresses would bring plates full of the meats you ordered to your table.  Shortly thereafter, my parents were intrigued enough to give this Korean bbq restaurant a try, and they ended up loving it and telling me that they wanted me to go and give it a try because they figured that I’d like it.  My parents told me to invite my husband as well, but I wasn’t quite sure whether or not my husband would like this kind of place as he’d never had Korean bbq like this before.  After my parents invited me, I decided to invite my husband, but I remember telling him that if he didn’t want to go, I’d go first and then come back and report to him and he could go on a future trip.  Surprisingly, my husband actually agreed to come with me and my parents to try out this Korean bbq restaurant just so he could see what it was all about.  Alright, time to see what this Korean bbq joint was all about, and see if my parents were right.  Gen Korean BBQ House & Yakitori Bar, part of a chain of 6 restaurants all located in Southern California, we visited the restaurant in Tustin.  Upon walking in the restaurant, I discovered just how popular this place was.  We arrived at the restaurant just as it opened and were surprised to discover that a majority of the tables were already occupied.

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Like the Korean bbq joints I’m used to, you’re seated in a booth that surrounds a grill in the center of the table.  This is the grill in which you cook all of your food on.  Along with the meats and vegetables that you can grill yourself, you’re provided with several side dishes to enjoy with your grilled meats and vegetables.  As you’d expect at most Korean restaurants, you’re given sides such as kimchi, mashed potatoes mixed with yellow mustard, sliced daikon radishes, other Korean hot sauces mixed with various vegetables, and a bean sprout dish with more Korean seasonings.  This looks like the set up for a feast for me!  The table is set up with plates for each person, which include dipping sauces for the marinated meats once you’ve grilled them to your liking, along with chili paste and hot sauce as well if you like your grilled meats to have a little bit of heat.  The minute you sit down, the waiter brings a large salad dish to your table for everyone at the table to share.  And you’re given a menu and you’re off to the races.

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The rules at this all-you-can-eat joint are that you can order five dishes to start off the menu.  Your dishes are brought to your table and you start grilling.  When you’re ready, you can order more dishes, up to three at a time, and you keep going until you don’t want any more.  And these meat dishes that you can order off the menu are actually high-quality tasty options.  So, when we started off our order, we opted for the following five dishes: Gen signature prime steak – black angus top sirloin, American kobe bulgogi – thinly sliced marinated American wagyu kobe beef, Hawaiian steak – in sweet teriyaki with pineapple slices, Yangyum galbi – marinated angus prime short rib, and Samgyubasal – pork belly.  And while ordering only 5 dishes between four people may not really seem like that much food, believe me, it’s quite a bit of meat.  And look at that beautiful signature prime steak, you literally get two full-sized steaks that you get to grill up to the doneness that you prefer.

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Here’s the American kobe bulgogi.  Look how paper thin that American wagyu kobe beef is.  It only takes minutes over the high heat grill before it’s cooked through and ready to eat on your plate.  Personally, of all of the dishes we tried at Gen, our table really enjoyed the Hawaiian steak the best.  The marinating slices of beef in the sweet teriyaki and pineapple slices was so flavorful.

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One of the subsequent dishes ordered was garlic chicken.  Described in the menu as being served with jalapeno cheese fondue, my husband couldn’t resist.  And what you get is slices of garlic chicken that you grill up, along with an aluminum tin filled with queso cheese with chopped up jalapenos.  You throw the aluminum tin onto the grill as well to heat up the cheese and incorporate the jalapenos.  When the chicken is done, you dunk the chicken into the cheese and jalapeno mixture.  My husband really enjoyed this, it’s cheese, it’s jalapenos, it gives you a bit of a kick and spice and dunking in hot-off-the-grill chicken, makes for a delicious combination.

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We also really enjoyed the marinated American wagyu kobe beef with vegetables.  The vegetables included green onions, onions and carrots.  This was great because you could also drop the veggies on the grill and grill them up with the marinated beef.  Grilled vegetables created a nice flavor profile and texture to contrast with the very meat-heavy meal.

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If you were more of a seafood person, there was Saewoo.  This is whole shrimp, with the heads and shell still on that was sprinkled with just a little bit of sea salt.  The shrimp on the grill only took a few minutes on each side to be fully cooked.  Sweet, flavorful grilled shrimp, a favorite for any seafood lover.

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And something everyone loves, Samgyubsal, pork belly.  Or better known as bacon.  Thick-cut slices of beautiful, fatty, and flavorful pork belly.  A few minutes on the grill on each side and you have amazing grilled bacon, as crispy or as juicy as you choose to grill it.

What I really enjoyed about Gen is that they had such good quality meats, a large selection and variety of seafood, beef, pork and chicken and terrific service.  After a round or two of grilling your meats and seafood on the grill, they’d come over to replace your grill with a brand new clean, grill top, so that you weren’t grilling meats on top of other grilled meats and having your grill top just get caked on and greasy and disgusting.  My drink cup was never half full before it was refilled, and everyone who worked at Gen was so efficient and nice.  My parents were right, I did enjoy this new Korean bbq place.  And I was super surprised that my husband really enjoyed our lunch at Gen as well.  I think he was surprised as well because he went in really not knowing what to expect and how it would be.  The idea of sitting around, enjoying ourselves while we ordered what we wanted and were able to cook it ourselves was a lot of fun and enjoyable.  It was a terrific way to spend an afternoon together with my husband and my parents.  And even now later, my husband and I talk about Gen and are already planning the next time we invite my parents to go out there and enjoy a meal with us.  Gen Korean BBQ House brings me back a little piece of my childhood and reminds me of the Korean BBQ that my parents and I used to go to all of the time and had so much fun at.

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