What would happen if you combined two great things – barbecuing your own food and meat prepared Asian style? Well, you’d end up with Korean barbecue.
Seniors Bryce Longoria, Jake Longoria and Nina Dym, junior Harrison Moon and I reviewed the all-you-can-eat meal at two Korean barbecue locations: Blue House Korean Restaurant (1030 Howe Ave.) and Oz Korean BBQ (3343 Bradshaw Rd.).
The concept of Korean barbecue is pretty simple: similar to a buffet, people pay a single price to eat as much as they want, but they cook the food at the table.
Once seated, the waiter will ask if you’ve visited the restaurant before. If not, the waiter will describe how the restaurant works and give you suggestions for cooking your meat. After this, the waiter will light your grill and give each diner a pair of tongs to handle the meat.
All tables have built-in grills. Diners order items from the menu, usually three at a time.
At the beginning of your meal, you are served side dishes, called “banchan.” The sides include “kimchi,” a dish made of fermented vegetables and spices that tastes spicy and sour, and “japchae,” stir-fried sweet potato noodles.
We began by visiting Blue House for lunch, where the price is the same as dinner ($23.99 per person).
We had planned on making a reservation to have a specific table for filming and eliminate our wait time. Unfortunately, we needed at least seven diners.
Walking into the Blue House, you get a quiet, secluded vibe. Although you can hear other people talking and cooking at their tables, it’s not very loud – especially once you’re in your own booth.
The spaciousness of the restaurant also serves to isolate you from other diners; in fact, during our lunch there, we were the only diners in our area.
We ended up ordering about four rounds of meat, three choices of meat each time, and were able to sample the beef, pork and chicken offerings.
Although Blue House offers appetizers, such as pork and beef dumplings, they aren’t part of the all-you-can-eat meal, so we didn’t order them. The appetizers cost about $10.
The meats that we compared were the bulgogi, beef brisket, beef short ribs, spicy bulgogi and chicken.
Bulgogi is a dish made of thin, marinated slices of beef or pork. The marinade consists of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, ground black pepper and other ingredients such as scallions, ginger, onions or mushrooms.
The beef short ribs, or “galbi,” can be marinated in a sweet and savory sauce containing soy sauce, garlic and sugar, although it doesn’t have to be.
The chicken and brisket aren’t anything special – they’re prepared the same way they would be prepared in any other barbecue restaurant.
Everyone agreed that the meats had a great flavor, but that the bulgogi was our favorite.
The next day, we headed over to Oz Korean BBQ for dinner (also $23.99 per person).
Once again we couldn’t get a reservation (Oz requires at least nine diners), so we waited in the lobby for 45 minutes before being seated.
There we could smell the food being cooked at tables and hear people talking along with music. All of these features give Oz a vibe that is the exact opposite of Blue House’s: it’s a loud, bustling restaurant where you can’t be isolated from everyone else.
The noise is constant. Although there are televisions in both places, Oz’s are significantly louder – constantly playing Korean music videos.
The various smells of meat cooking also grew stronger as we made our way to our table. It’s hard to ignore the frying, sizzling noises and the delicious smells of the grilling.
With our recording equipment ready, Nina and Jake began our order – starting out with the bulgogi, beef brisket and beef short ribs.
Unlike Blue House, Oz includes two appetizers with the all-you-can-eat meal, so we selected the sweet chili wings and cheese corn.
You wouldn’t be alone if you’ve never heard of cheese corn; I had never heard of it either. Cheese corn is exactly what it sounds like: corn covered in cheese that is cooked on the grill.
After finishing our first round of meat, we agreed that the bulgogi wasn’t as flavorful as its counterpart at Blue House. In addition, the beef brisket was also a bit too salty.
However, the appetizers were very tasty. The sweet chili flavor of the wings was delicious, and the cheese corn was surprisingly good – the sweetness of the corn blended well with the cheesy flavor.
Next we ordered the spicy bulgogi and chicken.
Their flavor was a lot stronger than our first round. Both had a distinct, unique flavor, and I really enjoyed the heat of the spicy bulgogi.
However, this spicy bulgogi was pork instead of beef. Thus the feel of the meat was different – a little thicker and chewier.
So which of the two restaurants, Blue House and Oz, was the best?
Of the meat we sampled, my favorite had to be the bulgogi and beef brisket from Blue House.
The marinade gives the beef a very interesting flavor, and the brisket has a satisfying fatty taste.
Although I don’t usually eat much of the vegetable offerings from restaurants, at the urging of Nina, Jake and Bryce, I tried the pineapple. Now, I definitely have to agree with them that the grilled pineapple is one of the best things at Oz.
The warm, freshly grilled pineapple bursts with a sweet flavor when you bite down on it.
Because we ate at two different times, lunch at Blue House and dinner at Oz, it’s hard to compare the wait time.
The wait time at Blue House for lunch was basically non-existent; we were seated at a table almost as soon as we entered the building.
It’s very possible that dinner is much busier than lunch, although the one other time I visited for dinner was not very busy either.
Oz, however, was a different story. At dinner, the wait time was very long (about 45 minutes) especially compared to Blue House.
Moving on to the service of the restaurants, which was pretty good at both, though I felt that Blue House was slightly better.
There, our waiter was much more attentive to the needs of our table compared to our waiter at Oz, perhaps because there were fewer customers. [related title=”You might enjoy reading…” stories=”26758″ align=”left” background=”on” border=”none” shadow=”on”]
The main difference in price is what meats are available to you.
At Blue House, paying $23.99 allows you to order most of the meats – but not all. For an additional fee of $7, there are more options, such as rib-eye steak and marinated beef short ribs.
Oz, on the other hand, offers all meat options for the same price.
In addition to the meats, the meal at Oz also includes as many appetizers as you want, limited to two on the table at one time, and on-demand vegetables for you to cook.
Oz does have a second location (2605 Riparian Drive, Elk Grove), which Nina visits more frequently and recommends over the one we visited.
“(The other location) is much newer; it’s cleaner and pretty big,” Nina said. However, most of the tables are connected, although there are a few booths, so you grill side by side with another family.
So which of the two offered the best all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue experience?
The group agreed with me that, Blue House was our favorite.
Korean barbecue is a delicious and a fun experience, and you can get the best value by going with friends and an empty stomach.
—By David Situ