The Korean Barbecue at Go Goo Ryeo in Garden Grove Is Amazing, But Your Date May Not Approve

All that’s missing is the Altoids chaser
Edwin Goei

Holy Halitosis!
The potent Korean 'cue at Go Goo Ryeo is Listerine-worthy

By the time you discover the mouthwash dispensers in the restrooms, you'll have already realized that Go Goo Ryeo isn't a typical Korean-barbecue restaurant. The dental rinse is a thoughtful touch—especially after an evening of garlic and onion consumption—but it isn't the detail that most impresses. No, the best part about Go Goo Ryeo is that it's a do-it-yourself joint, but one where everything is done for you.

To experience the full splendor of the service, come on a Friday—or better yet, a weekday, during which the staff-to-diners ratio will be stacked in your favor. Then, it's typical to have two servers hovering over you.

They'll tend to the meats sizzling on your tabletop grill, turn over every piece of beef to check if it's properly seared, and snip the bacon into bite-sized swatches with scissors. Then they'll transfer every morsel to your plate and explain in limited English how to eat it. But here's a tip: Wrap your meats into a "taco" with an oiled square of sheer rice noodle called dduk bo sam, and then add the pickled radish, which is shaved as thin as parchment. Smear the "taco" in the fermented bean paste or seasoned-sesame oil before chomping down.

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After being so pampered, you'll wonder how you ever managed at other Korean barbecues, cooking your food like a schmuck and stinking of smoke afterward. Here, you'll come out smelling the same as you did when you came in. Go Goo Ryeo's ventilation system, built into the grill, siphons away the smoke with a jet-engine whoosh before a single puff has touched you.

Their dining room? Immaculate. It's appointed with more polished marble than a mausoleum and is so clean it's antiseptic. This would all be moot if the food weren't good—but, of course, it is.

Start with a complimentary pumpkin porridge called ho bahk jook—a goopy, yellowish paste made from kabocha squash that will remind you of warm baby food. Let this be the only starter you eat. All other appetizers, like the haemook pajeon, are too formidable. This thick-as-a-textbook, wide-as-a-tire seafood pancake is packed with scallion stalks and bits of squid and shrimp. It's served in massive slabs from the deep-dish pan it's cooked in. One order can easily feed six. And while the doughy mass is perfectly crisp on the edges and as soft as a muffin everywhere else, its presence in the appetizer section is more out of place than a 747 at the Fullerton airport.

You're better off saving room in the hangar for the barbecue. Beginners should try the familiar standby of bulgogi, thinly sliced sheets of marinated beef so well-marbled with veins of fat it's impossible to get a piece that isn't tender. Those who shun red meat can opt for the chicken and marvel at how it seems to retain its juices, even if you let it char. And while the shrimp is the only seafood item available for grilling, it is firm and sweet, butterflied and pounded flat to ensure even cooking.

These proteins are served à la carte, but all meals include panchan, side dishes designed to either singe or soothe. The choices vary: Some nights, you get stewed pieces of fish and daikon, or fried tofu steeped in chile sauce; other evenings, you'll see a chilled scoop of potato salad, soy-simmered eggplant, sweet lotus root, or jiggly capchae noodles. But there will always be at least two kinds of kimchi; the napa cabbage kimchi, a constant, is tinged red from chile paste and stacked neatly in a pile.

Also offered gratis is a big, refreshing bowl of a tartly dressed leaf-lettuce salad. But the best freebie of all is the dwenjang chigae, a spicy bean-paste stew riddled with chile seeds, mushrooms, tofu cubes and zucchini that arrives boiling in a stone pot. You'll sweat just from being in its proximity.

To close the meal, cups of complimentary cinnamon tea are poured. The brew—flavored like Big Red gum distilled into a cold liquid—is meant to cleanse your breath after dinner. But if that should fail, there's always the mouthwash.

Go Goo Ryeo, 8851 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 638-5959. Call for hours. Dinner for two, $50-$70, food only. Beer, wine and soju.

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Go Goo Ryeo

8851 Garden Grove Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92844


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