Exploring My Inner Asian / Los Angeles County

GYENARI KOREAN BBQ: Culver City, CA

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I’m a big fan of “The Next Food Network Star” on the Food Network. I’ve even considered auditioning for the show but couldn’t decide on a culinary point of view (my POV is all over the map). Last season boasted an eclectic group of talented chefs, one of them being Debbie Lee, a Korean American whose vision was to have a show on the Food Network called “Seoul to Soul”. As I watched each episode during Season 6, I was impressed with Debbie’s creations and thought her to be inventive with marrying both the tastes of Korean and American cuisine.

I happened to be online posting a very positive review of a tea house that I had recently visited and after doing so, happened to catch a tidbit about Gyenari. I recently began frequenting Korean restaurants and this one piqued my curiousity. I saw that it had a website so I checked it out. That’s when I found that the head chef was none other than Debbie Lee from the The Next Food Network Star! After reviewing their menu online and reading the various press about the restaurant, I just had to try it. Gyenari even has a Facebook page (yes, I’m a fan) and you can follow them on Twitter (no, I haven’t added them yet).

The perfect opportunity finally presented itself. A Friday night (the 13th of all days) and since the restaurant was close to the home of my brother-in-law Tony and his wife Diana, I thought it might be fun to include them in the adventure and make it a couples night out for the four of us.

We had 9:00pm reservations which I booked through OpenTable.com and the restaurant is located near Sony Entertainment Studios in Culver City. I haven’t been in this part of Culver City in ages and it appeared that there were major redevelopments. Gyenari is one of many restaurants in the area which also boasts the beautiful Culver Hotel and a Pacific Theatre. Parking is difficult in the area and Tony suggested that we park at the parking garage near Trader’s Joes, about 2 blocks down the street (we found out later that Gyenari had valet parking but it’s such a short walk from the parking garage and it only costs a dollar for a little over 2 hours to park).

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Gyenari has a slick bar meu and specialty cocktail items which also includes soju-based drinks. I’ll have to come back for Happy Hour to try out their bar food items but I was looking forward to trying a couple of their martinis.  I ordered the “G-Tini“, a fusion of pear plum vodka, nigori sake and pineapple juice. It was supposed to be garnished with a floating orchid but I guess they were out. Diana ordered the Watermelon Soju Spritzer, a blend of fresh watermelon, soju, sprite and a salted rim. Both were very good. I later ordered the Lychee-Tini made with lychee juice and kai lychee vodka with a fresh lychee sitting at the bottom of the glass. It was okay; I felt that it was missing something (maybe it was the garnish…LOL!).  I think that if you’re paying roughly around $9 a drink, it should include some cool, brightly colored fruit garnish. You decide:

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Above: Watermelon Soju Spritzer, G-Tini and Lychee-Tini.

Gyenari’s menu has two types of menus–an “old world” and “new world” menu.  Old world menu items consists of traditional Korean fare (i.e., porridge, kimchee, etc.) and the new world menu items are more modern dishes infused with a Korean flare. Of course, if you go to any Korean restaurant, you aren’t given bread at the table as you would at any typical restaurant, you are given a variety of “side dishes” to enjoy alongside your meal or as an appetizer.

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I ordered the Korean Rubbed Rib Eye with Bacon Grits. When they placed it in front of me, I was momentarily confused because my rib eye did not come with the grits as it stated on the menu (they must have run out of bacon too), the rib eye was accompanied by kimchee smashed potatoes. I was concerned because (1) they didn’t tell me that bacon grits were not available, (2) didn’t give me an option to choose another side dish of MY choosing and (3) I don’t like kimchee (which really isn’t a fair statement because I’ve never tried kimchee). I have a sensitive stomach so I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle the spice in the kimchee smashed potatoes. I was assured that it wasn’t spicy so I decided to be a trouper and try it. The rib eye was perfect (although again, they didn’t ask me how I wanted my steak cooked–I normally order my steak medium or medium rare and it was prepared exactly the way I liked it). The kimchee smashed potatoes were surprisingly very good, the spice subtle.

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Carlo ordered the Pumpkin Porridge to start. I was expecting it to look like a creamy rice dish, similar to risotto but it was more of a heavily textured soup with toasted pine nuts and soju-sauteed dates. It was a sweet porridge and it was, according to Carlo, “okay”. His entree, the Poached Black Cod was very good–it was poached perfectly and delicately prepared, the Korean Miso Broth flavorful.

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Above: Pumpkin Porridge with Toasted Pine Nuts and Soju-Sauteed Dates

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Above: Poached Black Cod with Shimeji Mushroom in a Korean Miso Broth

Tony ordered the Bulgogi, thinly sliced marinated prime rib in their own secret homemade marinade.  He ended up having to cook his own meal! LOL! The Bulgogi came with sliced onions, garlic, jalapeno, and large button cap mushrooms along with three dipping sau
ces.

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Diana ordered the Pan Fried Halibut with Egg Batter and Fried Shiso Leaf. The fish was firm and sat atop a medley of pan-fried vegetables as well.

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We were full from our meal but we managed to save room for dessert. I wanted to try the Spicy Chocolate Brulee with Bacon Shortbread–I was more curious about how palatable the bacon shortbread would be and these little savory shortbread “coins” were very good. The brulee had a touch of spice and was more like a chocolate pudding with a very light “brulee”, topped with fresh whipped cream and GARNISHED (LOL!) with raspberry and mint. Tony and Diana ordered the Asian Pear Bread Pudding with Spicy Cumin Butterscotch and Vanilla Ice Cream.  This was also very good and I loved how the asian pear added to the sweetness of the dish but was not overpowering.

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All in all, we had an enjoyable evening and it was nice to share a “couples” evening with my brother-in-law and his wife. I wasn’t totally “blown away” by Gyenari but we had a good time.

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GYENARI – KOREAN BBQ & LOUNGE
9540 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
310.838.3131

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