The Eating places Behind Korean Barbecue’s Thrilling Subsequent Wave

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On the Michelin-starred Korean restaurant Cote, diners load the acquainted Korean barbecue tabletop grills with galbi and skirt steak, sure, but additionally USDA Prime cuts and A5 wagyu meats. Banchan and scallion salad are paired with shrimp cocktails served alongside gochujang cocktail sauce; wedge salads arrive with sesame dressing; caviar service not solely arrives, however with a whopping price ticket in addition. When the restaurant opened in New York Metropolis in 2017, it was one of many first to mix Korean barbecue with a basic American steakhouse idea, and it’s typically credited with pioneering the development of “elevated” Korean barbecue within the U.S.

“I wished to ensure all of my core recollections and emotions — from consuming Korean barbecue with my dad in Seoul as a child to discovering the American steakhouse as soon as I moved to the U.S. — have been represented at Cote,” proprietor Simon Kim says. “We aren’t making an attempt to be probably the most genuine Korean barbecue restaurant. That may solely be present in Korea. We’re paving our personal path.”

As familiarity with Korean delicacies expands within the U.S., a cadre of cooks across the nation are reenvisioning Korean barbecue, placing their spin on one of the crucial beloved Korean eating experiences. Along with Cote, which has places in New York Metropolis and Miami, there’s Michelin-starred San Ho Wan in San Francisco by tremendous eating dynamo Corey Lee, extravagant Korean barbecue spot AB Steak in Los Angeles by world restaurateur Akira Again, and Portland-based Peter Cho’s whole-animal butchery restaurant, Jeju.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel right here,” Cho says. “However there’s undoubtedly a rising curiosity in doing Korean barbecue otherwise with a deal with the standard of substances. With Jeju, we’re actually making an attempt to supply a extra nuanced expertise with high quality that’s unmatched and virtually magical.”

As ubiquitous as Korean barbecue is within the U.S. right this moment, the expertise wasn’t all the time so accessible. In Korea, it was as soon as reserved for royalty, starting within the Goguryeo period (37 BCE to 668 CE). Over a number of hundred years, the idea developed from skewered meat to thinly sliced marinated beef cuts often called bulgogi, which interprets to “hearth meat,” and was more and more commercialized in Korea throughout the Korean Conflict, when the U.S. navy introduced over new grilling tools and slicing strategies. When an inflow of Korean barbecue spots started opening up in Korea throughout the late twentieth century, restaurateurs turned their consideration to amount and affordability to remain aggressive. Thus, all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue was born. It shortly shot up in reputation, drawing in each day crowds of shoppers seeking to get pleasure from limitless cuts of meat for a flat price.

Man wearing mask and chef’s apron stands at a grill.

Chef Jeong-In Hwang on the grill at San Ho Gained in 2021.
Eric Wolfinger/Eater SF

View of an angular light wood bar with two diners sitting at the corner. Behind it is an open dining room.

The chef’s counter and eating room at San Ho Gained.
Patricia Chang/Eater SF

Between the Seventies to Nineteen Nineties, the U.S. noticed a significant improve in Korean immigration. When Korean meals washed up on U.S. shores throughout the “Hallyu,” or the “Korean Wave” of popular culture within the early 2000s, Korean barbecue led the cost. Quickly after, outstanding all-you-can-eat chains like Gen Korean BBQ proved that diners in America additionally liked mass portions of grilled meat that wouldn’t break the financial institution. Although the idea initially catered towards the Korean diaspora with commonplace meat cuts from Korea and accompaniments like basic stews, these all-you-can-eat joints discovered stable footing and enchantment amongst non-Koreans, and the definition of Korean barbecue quickly transcended past countless slabs of meat. It embodied a phenomenon that calls to thoughts a convivial expertise with tabletop grills, smoke-filled air, alcoholic drinks like soju and beer, and a great deal of aspect dishes often called banchan. Korean barbecue grew to become related to abundance.

Now, we’re in a second wave of Korean delicacies, evident by way of the popularization of Korean avenue meals together with tteokbokki and fried rooster, specialty stews like soondubu, and much more esoteric fare resembling historical Korean recipes tailored for a fashionable tremendous eating restaurant, as in Suragan in San Francisco (which introduced its non permanent closure in August 2023). And lately, there’s been a reconsidering of Korean barbecue, with some Korean People giving it extra meticulous therapy by way of experiences that characterize a stark distinction to the usually rowdy and hefty feast.

In San Ho Wan’s minimalist house, Corey Lee and accomplice Jeong-In Hwang take the cooking out of diners’ arms: As a substitute, cooks grill meats over a central grill fired by stable lychee wooden charcoal. Korean barbecue, Lee, says, is “scrumptious and approachable, however virtually by no means dealt with with the required consideration or ability with the cooking often executed by waitstaff or clients themselves.” As a substitute of utilizing the acquainted grills on the desk, the central grill “burns quite a bit hotter, cooks very clear, and has that signature smoky taste that may solely come when cooking one thing over dwell hearth.”

In a departure from many Korean barbecue spots that boast greater than 20 cuts of meat, Lee and his workforce prioritized a keenly chosen vary of cuts primarily based on texture, fattiness, and richness, versus simply the acquainted fan favorites like bulgogi or beef brisket: San Ho Gained gives solely six cuts on the menu along with a number of specials. The beloved double-cut galbi is distinctly thicker and extra tender than common marinated brief rib cuts, because it’s braised earlier than grilled. Different cuts embody rib cartilage and the jebi churi, or beef neck filet, a particular lower that’s often not served exterior of Korea. All of this consideration to element comes at a worth: The set meal with grilled meats, banchan, different sides, and dessert is $110 an individual.

Cote takes the same method within the simplicity of its meals menu, so with that in thoughts, Kim knew he wished to implement a extra sturdy beverage program. A $110 wine pairing — with pours from Bordeaux, Tuscany, Corsica, Switzerland, and Alto Piemonte — might be added into the restaurant’s $225 steak omakase. “We launched an sudden pairing: wine with Korean flavors,” Kim says. “Individuals thought we have been loopy for placing these two issues collectively. [But now], the wine listing is what often surprises and impresses our company probably the most.”

In Los Angeles, chef Akira Again additionally aimed to carry a twist to the Korean steakhouse idea. When he initially opened AB Steak in Los Angeles proper earlier than the pandemic shutdowns in 2020, it provided a extra Westernized method, with bread and cheese on the menu. However the present model of AB Steak, which payments itself as “fashionable Korean barbecue,” is unapologetically Korean — albeit with luxe add-ons like truffle shavings and dishes just like the “Unbelievable 4,” a bite-size stack of A5 Japanese wagyu, uni, truffle, and caviar.

Again says AB Steak’s location in Beverly Hills compelled him to tackle a swankier model consistent with the remainder of his tremendous eating portfolio, which incorporates Akira Again, his eponymous fashionable Japanese restaurant with places in Dubai and Dallas, Marrakech, and (quickly) Montana. “It’s been very cool to see the varied clientele of AB Steak,” says Again. “We’ve had Okay-pop stars come by, however we’ve additionally had a number of foreigners and vacationers and numerous crowds. The individuals who go to AB Steak are excited concerning the high quality of the meat we’re serving, and we additionally put a number of deal with the considerate presentation of our meals.”

Though the addition of basic upsell substances like truffle and uni marks a transparent departure from what most diners might anticipate with Korean barbecue, Again says this next-generation method has an viewers: largely, youthful diners who’re prepared to spend a buck on novel eating experiences.

Like Cote, AB Steak serves cuts of dry-aged meat for its tabletop grills, however its selection of meat takes inspiration from Korean hanwoo beef, one of many world’s top-quality meats that may be a staple at high-end Korean barbecue eating places and is commonly characterised as a mixture of wagyu and American Angus. Although hanwoo is never exported exterior of Korea, AB Steak leverages Australian wagyu as a comparable choice, because it’s not as beefy as American steak or as fatty as Japanese wagyu.

“As a result of I lived in Korea till I used to be an adolescent, I’d wish to suppose I’ve a few of that ‘old fashioned’ Korean mentality,” Again says. “There are a number of eating places in Korea that I nonetheless love and go to time and again, however a number of the flavors in Korea have modified over time. I actually attempt to carry again and mimic the flavors of a few of my favourite dishes I ate rising up in Korea. In the long run, I would like my eating places to be an extension of myself. I don’t suppose I’m doing something loopy when it comes right down to it.”

Cuts of meat hang from hooks inside a glass case.

The butcher case at Jeju.
Celeste Noche/Eater

Meat and whole fish hang inside a glass case.

Celeste Noche/Eater

Portland’s Jeju, the place Korean barbecue meets Portland’s whole-animal butchery ethos, additionally gives no tabletop grills. As a substitute, cooks put together a big selection of meats on a central wood-fire fireside. The carcasses ageing within the glass case close to the again of the restaurant dictate the cuts of the day — maybe rib-eye at some point, or slices of soondae (blood sausage) one other. The set menu at Jeju, the third restaurant by Peter Cho and his spouse and enterprise accomplice Solar Younger Park that opened this summer season, is streamlined and served in an ethereal, wood-beamed house.

Earlier than Cho opened his first restaurant Han Oak in 2016, he had envisioned a Korean barbecue idea, however he by no means discovered fairly the fitting house for it. He lastly selected the previous dwelling of an Italian restaurant that featured a five-foot fireside and pizza oven; Cho has repurposed it for his rendition of Korean barbecue. The variation of the prevailing house to a brand new cooking model is emblematic of how Korean American cooks are adapting acquainted cuisines for brand new contexts, in the end diversifying the clientele for Korean barbecue.

“It’s fascinating to consider redefining Korean barbecue,” Cho says. “Due to the whole-animal program that we’re constructing on, it’s a bit exhausting to outline.” It’s not American barbecue with Korean flavors, neither is it easy Korean barbecue, “however we’re simply doing what feels proper to us and what we might need to eat.”

Cathy Park is a contract meals author primarily based in California.



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