Okay, grill, if you want to get all technical about it, at a new DIY Korean barbecue
Before trying the new Shik Do Rak in Irvine, there are a few things you need to know.
First, don’t come in your Sunday best. Grease will spatter; sauces will drip. If you wear that new Brooks Brothers suit, it might never look the same way again. The shirt you planned to donate to Goodwill is good enough.
Also, don’t bother taking a shower, shampooing or putting on cologne before you go—save it for after. Your hair, your skin, every inch of you, will smell of broiled meat and smoke, no matter what. Shik Do Rak, after all, is a Korean barbecue joint, where every table has a gas burner and at least one person per table is a cook. Essentially, you’ll be sitting in one big kitchen. And although there are exhaust vents overhead, they can only suck out so much of the grill’s vapors.
You smell its intoxicating odors even before you’re seated. And if you come on a weekend, be prepared to spend an hour thumb-twiddling and glowering at those who are enjoying their meals ahead of you. Shik Do Rak may be barely a month old, but word has spread quickly in a town lacking a proper do-it-yourself Korean barbecue.
While stuck in limbo, take heed of the sign posted near the entrance. It details the steps to get 15 percent taken off your bill. These include becoming a “member,” eating your food within 70 minutes and paying in cash. Later, you’ll scratch your head when you discover contradictory info printed on the menu, which states that you only have 60 minutes and that the discount is a paltry 10 percent.
Even if you don’t go for the deal, be aware that there is a two-order minimum for the individually priced barbecue items. A better value can be had by ordering the combos, each designed to feed parties of two or more. The bigger your group is, the greater the variety of grilled meats and veggies. Soybean-paste soup boiling in cauldrons, spicy cold noodles, even a steamed monkfish dish will also be included, depending on the price level.
No matter what you choose, six side dishes called panchan are always perfunctory and topped off by a roving cart. The best may be the rectangular flaps of fish cake as resiliently chewy as bubble gum. The rest consist of various sprouts, seaweed and cucumbers, either pickled or marinated in sesame oil. Also, there’s a full-sized salad bowl of shredded lettuce dressed with a spritz of acid and sesame seeds. And of course, there’s kimchi, which is particularly brisk, crisp and fresh here. All are to be the counterpoints in a meal focused on meat, meat and more meat.
The Black Angus Deckle is the easiest to cook and consume. Red, cylindrical curls of thinly shaved beef are presented frozen, but not for long. The griddle melts the fat and browns the protein in seconds. Invite your group to pluck them off while sizzling. Then, have them wrap each morsel in duk bo sam—an oiled square of rice noodle that is Shik Do Rak’s calling card—and drag it through the searing chili-paste dip or oil seasoned with white pepper and salt.
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Whatever you do, do not pass up the rib eye: two flat slabs thicker than a fashion mag. Slap one on the grill and let it sear. When a good crust develops, flip and repeat. With the scissors they provide, snip the steak into bite-sized pieces. It’s rich and butter-soft. Your tablemates will toast your grilling prowess, but the meat is so well-marbled, even a kid with an Easy-Bake Oven can look like Emeril.
The pork belly, on the other hand, might sound good on paper, but it renders down into strips as tough as a leather belt—and with less flavor. Since they’re included in most of the combos, make the best of it by wrapping them in a slice of pickled radish, which you’ll then dunk liberally into chili paste.
If you’re of the belief that you shouldn’t have to slave over a hot stove when you dine out, try the bul kalbi, a fully cooked barbecue dish served over a bed of sliced onions. But your hair and your clothes will still smell, since you’ll be sitting in the same room as everyone else—who, incidentally, will be having a lot more fun.
Shik Do Rak, 14805 Jeffrey Rd., Ste. H, Irvine, (949) 786-7668. Call for hours. Dinner for two, $40-$45, food only.