By Kiera Wright-Ruiz
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By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
It has been two days since you digested the equivalent of three meals' worth of meat in one sitting at All That Barbecue in Irvine. It took several showers to get the Korean-barbecue smell completely out of your hair. But now you miss that you can't run your fingers through your scalp to get one last whiff of that meal—one that gave you a primal sense of satisfaction no other in recent memory has. Nothing, not even Brazilian churrasco or a carne asada Sunday, matches the thrill of plucking a still-rippling piece of Korean-barbecue meat from the hot grates, popping it directly in your mouth and feeling the surge of melted fat gushing from its pores as you bite. Every morsel is a head rush, tapping a hidden pleasure center in your brain and reaffirming why you're a carnivore.
The last time you ate this much and this well you were at Gen Korean Barbecue in Tustin. You recall paying the familiar $20 entrée fee there and eating yourself to a beef-addled stupor, as you did here. All That Barbecue is not unlike Gen and other new-age all-you-can-eat Korean barbecues like it. All charge an agreeable price for meals of this magnitude and scope. All That Barbecue attracts the same kind of crowd as those others—people of a certain age who can eat their money's worth in red meat without worrying when the Lipitor will kick in.
But All That Barbecue has a quirkiness all its own. It names its dishes with pun-filled phrases such as "Don't Rib Me Off." And it pre-cooks some of its proteins before your tabletop grill has had a chance to reach searing temperature. The flap-tail steak, for instance, is grilled to a rare center, then served in slices for you to finish cooking to your level of desired doneness. Also pre-cooked are the boneless beef ribs, the meat rolled up like a tube sock and served on a pie tin. You then unfurl it on the grill top, letting the heat penetrate the thick length of cow and slowly roast it to brownness before you snip it into bite-sized pieces with shears.
Yet another All That Barbecue oddity: a ground-beef patty with pieces of chewy rice cake embedded in it. The menu describes the dish as a "Rice Hot Dog," but it's so obviously a burger you wish it came with a bun and a slice of cheese. And then there's the pig steak called a "Rolling Neck," which turns out to be a marinated pork-loin chop so thick you're better off breaking it down to stamp-sized pieces than waiting the half-hour it'll need to fully cook. Baby octopus—meant to be slowly simmered in an aluminum foil-molded bowl of its own sauce—also does better being directly exposed to the fire. Plus, it's fun to watch the tentacles contract in the heat, dancing as if it were alive.
But it's the classics you covet. There are those thin sheets of pork so well-marinated and mired in gochujang it's simultaneously too sweet and too spicy to eat without rice. There are slabs of chicken thighs coated in the same sauce, a sesame- and soy-perfumed bulgogi with onions, whole blocks of pork belly, and unshelled shrimp you need to roast until their antennas char and their innards percolate into a sort of sauce. The restaurant's most popular item and the thing you order plateful after plateful is the "Skinny Dipping Cow," which is actually chadol, whisper-thin shavings of brisket that turn opaque on contact with the steel. Even better: the so-called "Karubi In Tokyo," fat-rimmed ribbons of belly meat that are bacon doppelgangers until you realize it's beef, not pork. Like magic, they reduce to half their original size in the heat, self-basting with grease, and when you eat one, you attain beefy enlightenment.
It's about here you realize how the rudimentary panchan side dishes of potato salad, chap chae, kimchi, pickled radish, even the usually compelling dduk bo sam—those rice-noodle squares meant to be wrapped around the cooked meat as though a taco—start fading into the background. Even the other main-course offerings of fried rice, the delicate steamed egg and the tofu soup become unwanted chatter. Your frequency is tuned to the sound, smell and sight of the pieces of beef currently sputtering on your grill. You breathe in its intoxicating vapors. Your only thought: What shall I dip it in when it's ready? The salt-and-pepper mix, the chile paste or the garlic-festooned soy sauce? And when you waddle out with a distended tummy and your skin sticky with a millimeter of grill grease as though it were spray-tanned, you set aside another $20 for your return. But first, a shower.