The Place:Gyu-Kaku, 14181 Newport Ave., Tustin. (714) 731-1719.
The Hours: All day Monday. everyday. 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; 8:30 p.m.-closing.
The Deal: Select appetizers and drinks from $.99 to $9.95.
The Scene: You immediately notice two things about Gyu-Kaku:
One, it's really pretty. The entire place is full of wood tones contrasted with stone and marble. The walls are a deep red that peak your appetite and give the restaurant both a lively and a mature feel. When empty, the Gyu-Kaku is gorgeous, vaguely Japanese without being overbearing.
And two, it gets crowded and it gets loud. If you're expecting a quiet night out, forget about Gyu-Kaku. The restaurant attracts all crowds, from college students looking for a cheap drink, couples going out and even full families looking for a fun night. It's also designed to fit as many people possible into a tiny space, so, expect to hear snippets of everyone's conversation.
The Sauce: If you don't mind drinking swill, you're in luck. You can get a bottle of Budweiser for $.99, a mug of Sapporo for $1.49 or a pitcher for $7.45. If you're looking for something sweeter, Saketinis, Soju Cocktails and other mixed drinks are available for just $3 a piece and are super refreshing. Make sure to try a Lychee Soju Cocktail. It tastes like Vietnamese lychee soda but hides a pretty stiff punch.
The Food: Gyu-Kaku's happy hour menu is ideal for a drunk night out on the town. You order tapas style, everything is served as small plates, and cook Korean barbecue over a central grill embedded into your table. Things to check out: the spicy tuna volcano (basically a deep-fried spicy tuna roll), the bistro harami (tender beef from near the diaphragm) and the toro beef, super fatty savory steak.
There are also some nice veggies available. The spinach is great, coming smeared in butter and garlic, the mushroom medley is varied and tasty and the bacon asparagus is asparagus wrapped in bacon. What more could you want? Happy hour desserts are limited to three options, the chocolate lava cake, actually just a cake drenched in chocolate sauce, the banana chocolate ice cream and the smores.
The Verdict: Gyu-Kaku would be my favorite happy hour if it weren't for one thing: a $15 minimum. Otherwise, the food is varied and tasty, the drinks are cheap and sweet and Japanese barbecue is a fun time for anyone. Yeah, you might overhear something unpleasant or sit next to a couple having the worst date ever but, after fifteen beers, you won't mind.
The Grade: B+