I heart Groupon. Not only because of the discount factor, but because its enticing deals push me to try local businesses and restaurants that I might otherwise drive right past without a second glance. I must’ve driven past Gyu-Kaku’s Mid-Wilshire location thousands of times, and each time, I would make a mental note to myself to dine there. But for whatever reason, I never did. That is until recently when a Groupon offer of $15 for $30 worth of food at this Japanese yakiniku restaurant popped up in my inbox.
Yakiniku is a Japanese term that means “grilled meat” and it broadly refers to grilled meat dishes. At first, I kept confusing Gyu-Kaku for a Korean barbecue joint where you grill your meats and veggies tableside. I guess I wasn’t completely off base since at some point in Japan’s culinary history “yakiniku” was associated with Korean cuisine. I’d been to a Korean barbecue restaurant before and really enjoyed cooking my own food, so I figured that a date with Jave at Gyu-Kaku would be equally entertaining and force us out of the movie date night rut we’ve recently fallen back into due to all of the good movies we’ve been going to this holiday season.
While Gyu-Kaku has several SoCal locations, we chose the West L.A. location because it’s close to home, and nobody has time to sit in rush hour traffic after a long day at work. When we arrived to the shotgun style restaurant on a Monday night, we were promptly seated at our table and were told that happy hour was in full swing all day. So of course we started with some sake-infused cocktails which were delicious and anything but strong which is good since I’m not a big drinker.
Then, we proceeded to place a massive order starting with the Okinawan Sweet Potato Tempura and the Steamed Chili Dumplings for our appetizers. While the tempura was good, it wasn’t memorable. The star of the appetizer course was definitely the dumplings. Being married to a Jamaican for nearly six years now, I’ve definitely become a fan of spicy food, and I was happy to find that these pork-filled dumplings had the perfect amount of red chili to make our mouths tingle a bit without setting them ablaze. The crunch from the sesame seeds was a nice touch to break up the soft texture. I really wanted to order a second round of dumplings but decided not to so that we could save room for everything else we ordered.
For our meats we ordered filet mignon, lamb sirloin, and scallops accompanied by asparagus, corn butter, and a mushroom medley for our sides.
“Is that enough for two people,” I asked our waitress.
“Yeah, that’s a good amount of food,” she nodded.
Either we didn’t believe her or we were just in a gluttonous mood – I think it was the latter – so we also ordered the Spicy Kalbi Bibimbap and the Chicken Garlic Noodles. Both were a revelation. Both dishes came served in sizzling hot iron bowls. The bibimbap – meaning “mixed rice” – was served with grilled marinated beef short ribs and topped with sautéed, seasoned veggies. Delicious! Our waitress told us that the Chicken Garlic Noodles are a favorite dish, and they were also very good. But be forewarned that this dish can be a meal on its own because the noodles are so dense and filling.
All of our meats came to our table uncooked but pre-seasoned and marinated. My favorite meat by far was the lamb – juicy, tender, and somewhat sweet and savory from the marinade. All of the veggies came wrapped in foil and ready to throw on the grill. Our waitress gave us estimated cook times for the veggies although our asparagus needed much longer than the seven minutes she suggested.
The rising heat from the grill warmed our faces and our moods as our drinks and conversation flowed and as small plates of meat to grill kept arriving at our table from the open kitchen nearby. When dessert rolled around and we saw S’mores on the menu, I was immediately sold as I haven’t had a proper S’more since circa 1992. A sticky, sweet S’more was long overdue!
Dining at Gyu-Kaku was also long overdue. And my days of Gyu-Kaku drive-bys have officially come to an end!
This post is a part of Date Nights L.A. – a new series on my blog wherein I highlight local points of interest that Jave and I explore during some of our weekly date nights. In any relationship, it’s important to keep things fresh, and the same is true of my relationship with Los Angeles – my home, my friend, my nemesis, my love. So here’s to gaining a new, fresh perspective of L.A.!
Note that the total price of our meal, after applying the Groupon, came to about $50 including the tip. Check out Gyu-Kaku’s website for locations and menu info.