I find it both humorous and annoying (I'm not sure which is more) when reading some of the comments on DineHere.ca regarding korean bbq dining experience. Particularly these ones;
"Raw meat is served to the table and you are expected to cook it yourself on hot plates. " on Westender Korean Cafe.
"Steak and chicken were not sliced for you (came in a big chunck) and I was told to use the scissors to cut it myself. Wow, I am paying $18 to cut meat?" on Kyung Bok Place.
Of course, I am one who is also quick to flip the switch on poor service, food not arriving, sanitation, etc. Nonetheless, there are several common sense pointers I would like to point out to these critics, whom I can only assumed were misinformed, regarding general norms for dining at korean bbq or any other less than fancy asian food joints.
1. I'm not sure why people are surprised that they have to cook their own meat. Maybe it's best to do some research before trying it for the first time so you have a general idea. When I went to Westender Korean BBQ for the first time, I witnessed the waitress told a caucasian couple at least 4 times that pork belly bbq is all they have, and if they are sure they want to eat it. Initially, I was probably as annoyed and baffled as the couple as to why the waitress had to ask them repeatedly. After reading some of the comments on the website, she probably just wanted to make sure what they are getting into with no surprises. Most bbq meat are served raw so you can cook it yourself at your own convenience at your own table. It is universal. If you can't handle the sight of raw meat being served and cooking it yourself, I would suggest not ordering bbq or hot pot, or even sushi/sashimi.
2. Yes, large pieces of meat are served at your table along side of a pair of scissors and you do cut them up yourself. The reason for this is because the meat will remain juicier if you cut them up after rather than before they are being cooked. It is unreasonable to expect servers to station at each and every single table in the restaurant, waiting to cut up each piece of meat for you. Again, if you find that appalling, I would suggest you dine at the Keg instead of trying to venture any new type of cuisine.
3. A lot of asian food joints reputation are all about quality of food, the price, or the value in general. Yes, there are some old ghetto places which if they are crowded, you can probably expect them to taste really good. Obviously, I never expect customer service from these places as I do at Cactus Club, or anywhere else higher end. I don't expect the servers to come over to chit chat, and constantly following up (those are luxuries). What I do expect are my food being served in a timely manner without mishaps, and nothing foreign is in it. I mean, you are basically there solely for the food, and not the atmosphere. Chances are if the restaurant is busy and under staff, you are going to have to fight for their attention.
Westender Korean Cafe
Barbecue pork belly for 3
For $10.95, the barbecue dinner comes with a spicy soup, 2 kinds of salads (western and korean), side dishes which include bean sprouts, daikon, and kimchi. A bowl of rice is extra $1.25. The place is a strictly pork belly place. There is no menu and they get straight to the point. I was content grilling my own pork belly slices (or having them grilled for me by others) until they are crispy. Then, garnishing the meat with pickles, wrapping it lettuce before dunking it in hot sauce and sesame oil with salt. Enjoy that over a bowl of rice. And as long as we keep getting refills, I couldn't possibly ask for anything more.
Kim Ga Nae
The dinner menu has kalbi and several more cooked items than the lunch menu.
Soft tofu soup
I was expecting spicy soon do bu tofu soup and was disappointed that it was a clear broth, quite different than what other people has posted on previous blogs regarding their dining experience at Kim Ga Nae. It was more of a chinese inspired taste. I didn't really touch it much.
I was hoping there would be more than just kimchi as a side. I don't feel the same way about korean barbecue without at least 3 side dishes sitting in front of me. There was pickled radish, but it wasn't spicy either.
The jab chae was served cold as though it came straight from the fridge. I pretended it was some kind of noodle salad...
Spicy rice cake
The rice cake was chewy and that is all I have to say.
Pumpkin, onions and mushrooms
I have to say that they were quite generous with the portions of sliced beef and bulgogi. This picture shows one order of each meat item. The pork belly only comes in 2 pieces per order. The beef bulgogi and the pork ribs were my favourite as they were tender and well marinated.
Gyoza and sweet chicken (2 pieces/order)
Bi Bim Bab
The bi bim bab is standard. We finished it with the barbecue meat. What a filler. By the way, did you see the scissors in the corner? Yes, we cut our own meat!
Beef bone soup
For some reason, I found the beef bone soup to have the same flavour as KFC chicken. Again, I left it alone.
Overall the experience was average and the quality of food is average. I was disappointed with the lack of sides and the tofu soup. Even though it is a descent meal for a barbecue lunch, I'm having trouble thinking of reasons to go back again.