Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gyenari: Korean (and Cocktails) for the Masses

Gyenari is that Korean-fusion restaurant in Culver City backed up by Debbie Lee of the Next Food Network Star. The result of two long lost cousins finding each other and opening up a restaurant (true story) and is also one of the very few Korean bbq joints on the westside (the only one if you take out West Hollywood).

I've heard of quite a few bloggers liking their happy hour and the food here, so when a press invite came from their PR person, I took up the chance to try the place out.

I actually got to Culver City in time but since I missed the turn for the parking structure (right behind BofA, 2 hours free) and the no-u-turn-everywhere I ended up being late after all. Bah.

The night started out on the patio for cocktails and skewer appetizers.
I believe I had the ginger soy beef which turned out to be pretty spicy. I don't know how the rest of the skewers are since I came in a bit late and they were all gone.

While on the patio we also got some Duk Boki (pan fried rice cylinders in onions and korean chile paste)
I was surprised to find this item since I don't think their typical clientele would order dukbokki. The version here is not spicy but flavorful enough, and the rice cylinders had a good texture. I wonder if they ever get new customers trying this out?

Gyenari also has a surprisingly good selection of cocktails, with an Asian slant, priced pretty reasonably at $9-11.
A couple of the cocktails I enjoyed were the Soju Caipirinha (though it shouldn't be called a caipirinha w/o cachaca ... Caipisoju?) and Mango Mojito
Between all of us, we managed to try almost the entire cocktail menu. Another one that I liked a lot that I managed to get a sip of was the St. Gyenari.

After the appetizers, we moved inside for our dinner. We were seated in front of a series of lighted panels depicting "gyenari", a yellow Korean flower.

Assorted Jeon Plate (mung bean, shrimp, fresh vegetables)
I liked these as they used fresh ingredients and the batter wasn't as greasy. I particularly liked the shrimp.

Apparently their bbq dinners typically comes with some porridge which we also got that night:
Pumpkin Porridge (toasted pine nuts, soju sauteed dates)
The porridge (more like a soup) was a lightly sweet, smooth, and creamy.

Pear and Shiso salad with Flashed Rib Eye and Shabu Sesame dressing
There was talk amongst my table-mates about why Gyenari decided to use the word shiso and not the Korean word, but if you ask me salad isn't really that Korean anyway, right? I like this salad and especially the use of the pear. Flashed rib eye was also good (although I can't help but imagine how good it would be with steak tartar!)

We were served the G1 set from the menu which came with japchae
The japchae was most definitely sweeter than usual and I think we all missed that garlicky oniony that is japchae.

The G1 meat selection included Gyenari Galbee, bulgogi, aged pork belly, and Gyenari Flower Chicken
Table-top grill, of course.
All the meats were good quality, much fresher than what you'd find in an AYCE place, naturally, and the marinades were pretty flavorful.
I was missing the rice paper or even the lettuce to wrap my grilled meats in, although I did love the rice they had here.

The banchans also did not disappoint. Kimchi was pretty good, and I love the bean sprouts and could not stop munching on them.

To finish off the savories we had a stonepot of Kimchee Chigae
The kimchee chigae was rather bland and the tofu was also unflavorful. I thought they definitely could've made this richer and spicier and cook the tofu inside the broth. Even though they're perhaps trying to appeal to a Korean-food-beginner audience, they're not doing the food justice in this case. Considering their skewers were spicy, why tone down the spice here?

For dessert we tried their Spicy Chocolate Creme Brulee with bacon shortbread and almond cream, and the Green Tea Beignets with chocolate mint drizzle.
Although the spicy chocolate creme brulee was a pretty good brulee, it was nowhere near spicy. The creme brulee would definitely benefit from more spice to make it more interesting. The green tea beignets had a stronger green tea flavor but was too dry (I did hear some of us got firmer ones). I wonder if the ones on the regular menu are bigger and more moist inside ...
As they were, though, vanilla ice cream or something would be good.

Overall I had a good meal (complimented by some tasty cocktails): the shiso and pear salad and pumpkin porridge stood out, and the barbecue meats were all good. On the other hand they need to be bolder with their traditional korean menu items like japchae and kimchee chigae. I would be interested in trying some of their fusion "Seoulful" items later though since they were supposed to be Debbie Lee's specialty. Galbee pot pie, anyone?

9540 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 838-3131
Gyenari on Urbanspoon



I'm torn between being delighted by and scared of galbi pot pie!

Nice re-design. :)


What, no mention of the Maker's Float? ;)

Fun night - so glad we got to chow down together!

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