Two days ago, I had no plans to eat here; in fact, I wasn't aware of its existence. Just coincidence that my meeting was next door at Wahoo's, and that I figured out it was about to open. Ok, the balloon arch kinda clued me in. My previous experiences at Korean bbq are few and far between. There was this one place by the airport with a Korean co-worker (he did all the ordering). It reminded me of a scene in Lost In Translation, where Bill Murry's character is deciding on dinner, and all the pictures look the same. I think the other time was at the Asian trifecta of eats off Bristol/Paularino. I won't even bother to elaborate that mishap (It was me, not them.). So for me to want to check out a brand new establishment, with no idea of the menu or a seasoned bbq griller by my side was dicey.
When people talk about a clean, well-lit place, there should be a pic of Gen handy, for this is exactly that. The furniture may be of dark woods, but the walls and light fixtures are a super bright "GE is paying our electric bill" white. The space is divided into thirds - on your far right is the bar, middle has tables and chairs, and lefty is primarily booths. We are booth people, and you cannot help but notice the additional 'blocks' of light atop each seating space. Nothing to hide here. We decide to grill our gracious server and the nearest manager for more intel.
That night (Friday, September 9) was their first evening of a two-week long soft opening. While some would say that you're either open or you're closed, we could distinguish between the two options a number of ways. Tea was not available, although both hot and cold varieties are on the menu. An enticing fried Twinkie, like the other desserts, was not yet possible either. What a tease! The manager mentioned that we should also check out their bento lunches, as they are a hefty amount of eats for the price.
Related to Tomikawa in Irvine, other siblings go by the names Octopus and Sumo. They span as far north as Ventura, depending on which brand you are referring to. If you're a fan of Tomikawa, then Gen's appetizer selection should look familiar, since they mimicked it. We did order some gyoza and fried chicken to start, which were a crunchy change of pace from the rest of the menu. Everything else requires a repeat visit, since we were game to tackle their $22 all-you-can-eat feast. For the money, you receive not only 22 bbq options, but the following:
- Rice and radish sheets for wrapping.
- Banchan - all the individually served sides expected; we had mashed potato, kimchi, mushroom, assorted veggies and a few others. It was like Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan all over again.
- White rice upon request.
- Two different soups towards the end of our meal. One was a white, more eggy custard. The other had a red hue that Mr. brekkie fan tried and loved. Grace could not provide the technical names, but it didn't matter. Anyone want to name for me?
- Green salad.
- A trio of sauces including a mild sesame oil seasoned with pepper.
Don't expect me to name all 22 possibilities, because I thought the website would have it for me, but it didn't. I recall an American kobe, shrimp, some internal organ stuff I wasn't about to touch, short rib, assorted vegetables, and bulgogi, which (surprise surprise) was our favorite. Being able to choose between eating my meats with rice, all wrapped up, over greens, or straight off the grill was pretty cool. Radish wraps gave an earthy quality, while rice wrapping endured a gelatinous texture requiring a lot of chew.
Our server spent much of her time babysitting the meat - arranging it down on the grill, turning things over, and taking a thick pair of shears to hack food to more manageable bites. When I tried to take the reins and actually do some of the work myself, Grace jumped right in to assist, saying it's what she's here for. After a couple of rounds, she would summon someone to swap out the grill for a shiny, new one. While this was a great gesture on the restaurant's part, I would've been fine with cooking off the same surface. I was more bothered by the circle of grease surrounding our grill space like a force field.
It's easy to love a place based on one meal, especially when they are trying their best to impress you. However, if dinner was any indication of how they plan to operate, I'm already plotting my next visit to the yakitori bar...they just better have tea and dessert ready!
Gen Korean BBQ House and Yakitori Bar is in Tustin, situated within a plaza on the corner of Newport and Main. It's a stand-alone establishment, adjacent to Wahoo's Fish Taco. (If they had business cards or a more updated website, I would include more accurate information.) I can tell you they are open seven days, until 11pm on Friday and Saturday.