How big is your wok? Mongolian BBQ at Big Wok

Husband is a big fan of Mongolian BBQ.  When we discovered an all-you-can-eat place in Manhattan Beach during one of our exploratory drives, he was ecstatic.  Big Wok has now become one of our “go to” places for when we don’t feel like cooking and want something inexpensive and filling to eat.

Wok me, Amadeus

This place is pretty popular, especially during the dinner hours.  We usually try to get there  earlier so that we don’t have to wait in lines to get our food and have it cooked. We’ve never had to wait to be seated and are always greeted quickly by a smiling waitress.  Service here has always been great.  Parking on the other hand…

Meat, meat, meat

Just some of the veggie offerings

Big Wok operates like any other AYCE Mongolian BBQ.   You grab a bowl, fill it with semi-frozen slices of meat, vegetables and noodles.  Then you top it off with various sauces and hand the dish to a cook who gives you back a plate of steaming hot yummy eats.  The selection at Big Wok isn’t as big as other places I’ve been to but it has enough variety to make for interesting combinations.

The meat section offers turkey, chicken, pork, beef and lamb.  I usually do a  combo of chicken, beef and lamb, sometimes pork.  There’s also tofu for the vegetarians.

As for veggies, there’s your usual culprits – zucchini, green onions, celery, mushrooms, chopped green and red cabbage.  There’s also spinach, tomato, water chestnuts, baby corn…well, you get the idea.

Pick your sauce

There’s a good variety of sauces.  Regular BBQ oil, spicy BBQ oil, garlic water, ginger water, curry sauce, lemon water, chili oil…  There’s a card with a few combinations but, like all other Mongolian BBQ places I’ve ate at, I find it best if you at least double the number of spoonfuls.  Otherwise, you end up with a bland dish.  I like to use the spicy BBQ oil, garlic water (be sure to add in the garlic chips), a little ginger water and a spoonful of chili oil.  I think I may have to add in more chili as it never comes out as spicy as I want.

There's meat under all that...

Mmmm mmmm....

I don’t usually do noodles as I prefer rice.  I’m not sure why.  I do like noodles but I never get them at Mongolian BBQ places.  Maybe it’s because I don’t want to fill up on them when I know I’m also going to get “mana biscuits”.  Husband, on the other hand, is the opposite.  He loads up on meat and noodles.  Completely skips the veggie section…*sigh*

Oodles of noodles

Hey, where's the greens?

Mana Biscuits

Back to the “mana biscuits”.  What I’m talking about are those Chinese flat sesame-crusted bread thingies.  Husband and I used to play a lot of WoW and talked about having a guild party at our place and doing a WoW themed menu.  We decided that these bread items would be perfect “mana biscuits”.  I know, we’re dorks…  I love these things, though.  Husband doesn’t eat them since he’s got oodles of noodles on his plate so I always gobble them up.  There’s a nice crispness on the outside; the inside is warm and a little chewy.  I like to wipe the plate with them…so good!

Our total bill, tip included, ranges from $25-30 depending on if we get drinks or not.  Big Wok also offers some sides like fried shrimp, kimchee, soup and wontons but I’ve never ordered them and never seen anyone else with those dishes on their table.

I give Big Wok 3 1/2 NOMs!

Big Wok
250 N Sepulveda Blvd
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 798-1155
Big Wok Mongolian BBQ on Urbanspoon

New Seoul BBQ

New Seoul BBQ

Over the Christmas break, the Husband and I met up with my parents for lunch in Orange County.  The last few times we’ve done this, we’ve gone to New Seoul BBQ, an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ Buffet.  The reason…meat-fest!

Unlike Manna, the place we frequent up in LA, New Seoul is a self-serve buffet.  This is more convenient since there is no time wasted trying to flag down a waiter and put in an order for meat.  Also, New Seoul has a wider variety of choices than Manna’s all-you-can-eat menu.  I think the meat is better quality as well.  It is more expensive, though.  Since my parents always paid, I never got a look at the check but I’m guessing $20ish/pp for weekend lunch.

New Seoul BBQ - banchan

When you walk in, you’re greeted by a long bar.  On one side, various banchan and a salad bar await your consumption.  Different kinds of kimchi, spinach, bean sprouts, tofu are just some of the choices.  Overall, the banchan is of decent quality.  They have a lot of the things I like to eat, including pickled shredded daikon and almond jelly.

The other side offers up various marinated meats and seafood.  The usual suspects – bulgogi, kalbi, chicken and pork bulgogi – are present but so are pork belly, tripe, beef tongue, baby octopus, mussels, and whole shrimp.

There’s also stations offering up hot items like udon, fried rice, japchae, egg rolls, fried mandoo, steamed egg.  The japchae is average though the noodles are sometimes overcooked, maybe from sitting under the heatlamp for too long.  The steamed egg is not that great.  They also have a couple of types of nigiri sushi but I usually pass as the one time I tried it, the fish didn’t taste fresh; it had a strong fish taste.  For dessert, there’s fruit, jello and a yogurt machine as well as a persimmon-rice drink.

New Seoul BBQ - Various meats on the table grill

Whenever we’ve gone, the service has been good.  We seem to always get the same table everytime.  The booths are big and spacious, giving everyone a lot of elbow room but still keeping them in arm’s reach of the grill.  The waitresses bring the rice (white or “brown” (purple, actually)) to the table instead of us getting it ourselves and they also cut the meat. They are pretty good about checking in on us as well.

While the price may seem steep for a buffet, for our family it is a decent deal since we can pack away the Korean BBQ.  Just be careful as they will charge you for any meat you leave behind.

Everytime we have come here, the place has been fairly empty.  I don’t know if it’s the cost that’s prohibitive for lunch or if people prefer to come here during the dinner hours.  It works out nicely for us as we get good service and there’s no line at the buffet.

The Catty Critic gives New Seoul BBQ 4 NOMs.

New Seoul BBQ
9902 Garden Grove Boulevard
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 537-9292
New Seoul Korean BBQ Buffet on Urbanspoon

Korean bbq on the west side…finally!

Manna Korean BBQ just opened up a second location in Culver City at the Westfield mall (formally known as Fox Hills Mall).  West side, rejoice!

Manna Korean BBQ - bar

Manna Korean BBQ - dining area

Manna Korean BBQ - grill

I’ve been here twice since it opened and have to say, while the food isn’t any different than the Koreatown location (read my review here), the setting is MUCH better.  Instead of sitting in a covered outdoor patio, you’re in a nice space with abstract paper mache art, high ceilings and clubby music.  It’s better ventilated so you don’t come out smelling like greasy smoke as much.

They still offer up their all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ for $16.99.  It’s a great deal if you have a large party or are hungry and want variety.  The only catch is that if one person orders it, the whole table has to as well.  I recommend going with the Jumulroc (marinated boneless shortrib, the bulgogi – chicken, beef or pork- and the samgyupsal (pork belly).  Marinated meats mean more flavor and pork belly…well…it’s like thick cuts of bacon!  It’s not the best-tasting Korean BBQ but it’s decent and for the price, awesome.

They give a nice variety of banchan.  Salad, kimchi, japchae, sliced daikon, rice paper and boiled egg seem to be the common fair.  I’ve also been served potato salad and seaweed on different occassions.  While the flavors aren’t anything to rave about, the variety and abundance is nice.

The menu also offers up some non-bbq items like dumplings, bibimbap and soondubu jigae but I haven’t tried any of this.  Based on reviews on Yelp, the soondubu is to be skipped.  I did see plates of dumplings go by on the last visit and they are quite large.  I’ll have to order up a plate next time to see if the taste is as big.

The space is large and they can easily accommodate big parties.  However, call ahead for reservations if you do bring the gang or go early.  I think the service here is also better.  They seem more attentive though be prepared to use the call button when they are super busy.  Also, it can get quite loud during peak dining hours.

The nice thing about being located at a mall is that there is plenty of parking.  Also, you can window shop to walk off the full stomach.

This location gets 4NOMS because of the nicer space and better service as well as the cost for the quantity and the okay quality of the food.

Manna Korean BBQ
6000 Sepulveda Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 397-9901
Manna Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon

P.S.  Poor iPhone pics FTW…

Back from Hiatus – Tsuruhashi!

For those of you who have been wondering where I’ve been, I was flattened by a nasty little bug and then ran over by a final project for my class. But we’re much better (except for a lingering cough) and my project has been turned in.

So where did we leave off? *flips thru photos* Let’s review…Tsuruhashi!

Tsuruhashi is a Yakiniku place on Convoy Street in San Diego. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, think of Yakiniku as the Japanese version of Korean BBQ.  The restaurant is tucked away in a small shopping center filled with plenty of restaurants and very easy to miss.  I recommend you don’t as it was good eats.

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Tsuruhashi - interior

The interior is very small.  It’s filled with about 8 booths like in the picture and 3 tables.  Because of the size, or lack thereof, and the fact that they are only open for dinner, stick to small groups or go early.  Large groups should definitely go early so they can grab the 3 tables which are movable; otherwise, the group will end up being split between booths.  Tsuruhashi does not accept reservations and can get quite busy, especially on the weekends.

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Tsuruhashi - table grill

On each table is a grill.  In case you don’t know, Yakiniku involves you cooking your own food.  You order cuts of meat or seafood and grill them.  At Korean BBQ restaurants, side dishes (panchan) and rice is included.  At Tsuruhashi, you have to purchase these things separately.  My friend and I opted to skip the panchan and just order rice.  The panchan menu consisted of a variety of kimchis, seaweed, marinated garlic, and green leaf lettuce with a miso sauce.

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Tsuruhashi - Meat Special

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Tsuruhashi - Seafood Mix

Tsuruhashi’s menu boasts some wonderful cuts of meat.  There are a couple of US Kobe offerings, several types of USDA Prime beef, pork, chicken and some more exotic choices like organ meats, tripe and tongue.  There’s also a seafood mix and a couple of vegetable-only dishes.  They also offer some soup, noodle and rice dishes.

We noticed a special on the menu that’s offered only Monday thru Thursday before 8pm.  For $23, you get ribeye, skirt steak, boneless short rib and chicken.  My friend and I opted for that and an order of the seafood mix ($9.50).  The ribeye and skirt steak were not marinated. However, we were provided with two standard “sauces” to dip in.  I believe one was sesame-based.

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Tsuruhashi - Chicken and Boneless Short Rib

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Tsuruhashi - Ribeye and Skirt Steak

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Tsuruhashi - Shrimp

The beef had nice marbling and color.  Because the pieces weren’t big (two bites), they cooked quickly.  I recommend keeping an eye on the meat.  Otherwise, you may end up with overcooked beef and that would just be sad.  The ribeye and skirt steak were pretty tender; there definitely is a difference between grades and USDA Prime is gooood.  The short rib was a little tough and chewy, though, so that was a little disappointing.  The chicken was marinated and had good flavor.  This was a decent dish for people who want to sample a few different things or aren’t adventurous in trying the more exotic cuts like tongue.

The seafood was wonderfully fresh.  We grilled the salmon and calamari first.  The salmon was okay and really could have benefited from a marinade or even salt and pepper.  I love mussels and these were great.  The shrimp were huge.  Because they are whole, you do have to peel them.  The scallops seared quite nicely and were plump.  For the price, this was quite a good deal.

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Tsuruhashi - Black Sesame Ice Cream

The amount of food we ordered was decent for a comfortable meal.  However, I was enticed by the offering of black sesame ice cream ($1.50).  Having never encountered it before, I couldn’t pass this up.  I’m so glad I ordered a scoop as this was the highlight of the meal.  It reminded me of coffee ice cream without the acidity.  Not too sweet, creamy…a perfect way to end the meal.

The Catty Critic gives Tsuruhashi 4 NOMs.

Tsuruhashi Japanese BBQ
3904 Convoy St
(between Kearny Mesa Rd & Ostrow St)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-8929
http://www.tsuruhashibbq.com
Tsuruhashi Japanese BBQ on Urbanspoon

Manna

So this past Saturday was the Korean BBQ Festival in Koreatown.  The husband and I had plans to meet up with friends there and eat some yummy meat.  However, while we were driving down Vermont (in horrendous traffic), our friends called up to say they were already there and that it was…well…not really worth it.  We decided that our money would be better spent going to Manna and having our own private Korean BBQ festival.

Entrance

Entrance to Manna


Manna - Where's the beef?

Manna - Where's the beef?

Manna is a “restaurant” on the corner of Olympic and Gramercy that boasts a $16.99 all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ that you cook yourself at a grill on your table.  The exterior of the building doesn’t really make it obvious this place is a restaurant so it’s easy to miss.  When you walk in, you realize that you’re actually still outside; you’re just in a covered patio area.  The actual kitchen and restrooms are in the building.  Long rows of tables with built-in grills fill the space.  It’s not uncommon to have several large groups at the same row of tables.

Our group of 6 arrived early (around 6:30pm) enough to not have trouble getting a table.  However, Manna gets filled up quickly so reservations are recommended if you have a very large party or want to eat later.

We ordered one of everything for our table – bulgogi, kalbi (boneless), beef brisket, pork belly, BBQ pork and BBQ chicken.  K and I also decided to split a large Pineapple Soju.  Our drinks and banchan arrived.  Apparently, the Soju was intended for four people.  o_O  It was a rather large carafe.  However, it wasn’t terribly strong which was okay with me since I’m a lightweight and I had an extremely empty stomach.  If you are a fan of pineapple juice, this is a good drink for you.  There was also a Lemon Soju as well.  A funny quirk about Manna is that if you want water, you have to ask for it and there are signs posted on the walls stating so.

Manna - Banchan

Manna - Banchan

Our banchan consisted of rice paper and daikon wrappers, japchae, shredded daikon kimchee, regular kimchee, spinach cooked in sesame oil, potato salad and a pot of boiled egg (not pictured).  There was also a salad that we noticed other tables getting so we asked for some towards the end of the meal.  It had a really nice cold ginger dressing on it. The banchan was all decent and flavorful.  The kimchee, while strong was not spicy.  I really enjoyed the spinach; it is one of my favorite banchan dishes and Manna’s version reminded me of my Mom’s.

Manna - cart o' meat!

Manna - cart o' meat!


Manna - bulgogi

Manna - bulgogi


Manna - plate o' meat!

Manna - plate o' meat!


Manna

Manna- beef brisket and onions cooking

One thing about Manna that I noticed is that they do not serve rice.  This allowed us to eat a lot of Korean BBQ, definitely more than $16.99 would have gotten us at a standard Korean BBQ restaurant.  When our meat arrived, it was on a cart with other tables’ orders.  The waiter immediately dumped the plate of bulgogi on the grill and then handed us a large plate of BBQ chicken and another even larger plate piled with beef brisket, kalbi, BBQ pork and a large slice of pork belly.  They also handed us a pair of scissors so we could trim down the larger cuts.  Manna is a very “do it yourself” type of restaurant.  Hey, for the price, I’m not complaining.

The bulgogi was good here though very fatty (hey, more flavor!).  The marinade was on the sweeter side, a bit sweeter than I prefer, but still tasty.  This was the table’s favorite dish as the boys ordered 2 more plates of the bulgogi after we finished off the first delivery.  I think by the time we were done, we had eaten a whole cow or what equated to a whole cow weight-wise.  The bbq chicken was good as well, marinated in the same thing as the bulgogi but the sweetness worked better for the chicken.  The beef brisket was served plain but we had two dipping sauces – seasoned sesame oil and a soy sauce-based one.  I liked to dip the beef in both and then wrap it either in the rice paper or the daikon with a little bit of the spinach.  I can’t recall anything about the BBQ pork though I know I ate some.  The pork belly was fine though unseasoned as well.  They only served one slice of the pork belly.  The kalbi was good as well.  I am used to the 3-bone short rib cut but here, they had trimmed off the bone so you only had to deal with the meat.  All the meat cooked up nice and tender which was a plus.

Each table is equipped with a bell that you can ring and the waiters know that you require service.  They’re pretty good about responding promptly.

For $16.99, Manna’s all-you-can-eat is a bargain and totally worth the trip.  You don’t even have to worry about parking in K-town because the restaurant has their own private lot that supplies “free” valet parking (tip at least $2).

I give Manna 3 1/2 NOMs.

Manna
3377 W Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 733-8516
http://www.mannakoreanbbq.com/

Manna Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon

Dae Jang Keum

When it comes to Korean food, this is where my coworkers and I come for lunch when I’m in town. Why? Their dolsot bibimbap (hot stone pot with rice, meat and vegetables). For $10 (including tax and tip) we get a huge bowl of this yummy goodness. The bowl is always steaming hot so that you get that nice crust of crunchy rice at the bottom (provided you let it sit long enough). For you vegetarians, you can order it without meat. The bibimbap sauce they serve here is not spicy-hot; rather it is really flavorful and adds to the dish.

There are a lot of other items on the menu. The bento boxes (also $10 with tax n’ tip) are a good deal. The spicy pork bbq one has a lot of heat to it so only order it if you like to take a walk on the spicier side. The chicken and beef are safer bets if you want something flavorful but won’t burn your mouth. Sometimes, the bbq beef can be a little on the greasy side, though. It comes with rice, a large helping of salad, 2 pieces of California roll and vegetable tempura. And if available, there’s also a piece of shrimp tempura as well. Note, though, that the bento boxes are only available M-F during lunch.

Other dishes I’ve had here is the mul naeng myun (a cold buckwheat noodle soup), mandu guk (dumpling soup), bibim naeng myun (buckwheat noodle dish mixed with the bibimbap sauce) and kimchi jigae, all of which are good and remind me of what I grew up eating.

The banchan here is great and changes every time we come though the staple kimchi is always present.

There’s the “cook your own meat” option that most people think about when they hear “korean bbq” though I have not tried it here.

The service is typical of all Korean restaurants I’ve been to…you have to ask for what you want , including refills on water since they won’t come by to check on you.

3 1/2 NOMs for Dae Jang Keum!

Dae Jang Keum
7905 Engineer Rd
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 573-2585