Gyu Kaku in Scripps Ranch has been open for a while now and I had originally been really interested in trying it out. But then I kept reading the menu online and looking at the prices (especially their “set menu” prices) and I couldn’t help but feel like Korean bbq would be a tastier and better deal.
I finally went once with a girlfriend and we managed to make it in during happy hour. It was a little chaotic and I was distracted by the much older gentleman and his snuggly much younger dining companion at the table next to us who had apparently never been to a place where you cook your own food – so, I can’t even tell you what we ate or how much it cost us that night. I feel like we had some post-dinner talk about how we would have rather gone for k-bbq.
After getting an e-mail that Monday is Happy Hour All Night Long, and also needing to stop at Trader Joe’s for a few things (since it’s in the same shopping center), I figured I would give it one more shot at happy hour prices to see if my opinion had changed.
I made reservations since the place is always super crowded, which also make me wonder if I’m just not getting the point about Gyu Kaku? Am I missing something? Anyway, we didn’t have to wait at all for our table and I started perusing the menu for some tasty bits to grill up. The menu we got was a happy hour menu but not everything had “lowered” prices, so is there a separate dinner menu that just shows the full price of everything? So many questions!
We started with a half salad and chili wontons, as well as fried bacon chips. Just because. The salad was small and okay. Nothing to write home about but sometimes you just feel the need to eat some greens. The wontons were also just okay, with the garlic chili sauce poured on top being the most interesting part. I’m guessing you’re supposed to squeeze the lemon over the bacon chips and then dip it in the salt? I squeezed the lemon but felt they were salty enough on their own (salty, but not necessarily delicious). I’m really not sure how to describe it… the bacon is not crispy (the fried coating is crispy) but not soggy, either. Kind of just meaty, but not very bacon-y. I ended up using it as a vehicle to get all the chili garlic sauce from the wontons into my mouth. I honestly don’t think I’d order any of these again. But, they came out quickly, so if you’re really hungry it’s good to know that these will show up fast.
For meats, we got the yakiniku, toro beef, duck breast, and short ribs (not pictured). We also got some garlic spinach, which was decent, but would really only serve 2 people. Oh, and we got the green onion sauce for $1 and it was sadly so inferior to the scallion sauce I make for my Momofuku-esque pig.
I would say the toro beef was like beef bacon strips, in that it had layered meat and fat and cooked up crispy. It was really thin, though, and not really marinated so it benefitted from a dip in the ponzus sauce. By the way, the spicy sauce on the table was not very spicy and the sweet soy was thick and sweet, kind of like a teriyaki sauce.
The yakiniku cooked up quickly; I’d liken it to bulgogi with a completely different marinade. The short ribs were good, but the pieces we got were a little chewy. The best plate we had was definitely the duck. We cooked it for less than a minute on each side, so it was still medium (pink in the middle) and so tender. Not too duck-y, with a thin fat cap that crisped up on the grill. If it wasn’t, like, $7 a plate I’d totally order more.
In the end, we spent $50.27 (pre-tip) for 4 plates of meat, spinach, wontons, half a salad, fried bacon and a beer. Oh, and two bowls of rice at $2 each. Essentially, $25 per person. Was I full? Yes, I was full and no longer hungry. I wouldn’t say I was satisfied, and if prodded I could have eaten a few more plates of beef. Should I have eaten a few more plates of beef? No, probably not. But, I don’t need to go to an expensive restaurant just to limit my portions. To me, I could have spent $25 and gone out for AYCE k-bbq that includes veggies or egg custard and unlimited rice and meats PLUS tasty bowls of banchan and maybe even that weird cup of sweet cinnamon tea at the end. Yeah, it’s probably more food than one person should eat in one sitting, but it’s not like we do it all the time. I just feel like k-bbq would have been a better value. For me. I also figure that when we usually go to Buga for non-AYCE k-bbq, if we have 4 people we’ll order 3 meats and maybe an appetizer. And it ends up around $20-25 a person, too. But it’s always plenty of food AND there’s the banchan. Maybe I’m just biased. But I think we’ll be sticking with k-bbq from here on out.
ps – I picked up some Cookie Butter ice cream from Trader Joe’s after dinner (and ate some when we got home to make me feel happier after the lackluster dinner) and holy moly is that stuff fantastic! I’m not even a huge fan of cookie butter itself, but the ice cream is like Cookies & Cream ice cream, only better. The soft cookie pieces melt into the ice cream and here and there are pockets of cookie butter. Part of me wants to buy more and the other part of me is glad we only have one carton or I’d be eating way too much ice cream these days.