January 04, 2012

Genwa Korean BBQ - Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles, CA

The first time I hit Genwa, I talked about the remarkable selection of banchan that they feature, along with the great ambiance.  After another visit there last week, I can say unequivocally that it's one of the best Korean barbecue restaurants in Los Angeles, which would then make it one of the best Korean restaurants in the world, period. If you want to talk about the Korean barbecue game, there's four major approaches. A la carte, like The Corner Place; cheap all-you-can-eat like Don Day; premium all-you-can-eat, like Oo Gook, and premium a la carte, like Park's BBQ or Soowon Galbi. Genwa is firmly in the last category, where you pay top dollar for some of the best quality meat available. One could argue that the quality of meat at Park's or Chosun is relatively comparable - they're all invariably either prime or choice grade meat with marbled fat, deep beefy flavor, and rather specific portion sizes. After eating at AYCE joints, having a premium Korean BBQ meal can seem almost like a ripoff. That is, until you realize that the entire package of banchan, service, and accoutrements really complete the experience.

Genwa's dark nook on the first floor of a Mid-Wilshire multi-use residential building gives it a modern flair; the whizz of cars along our city's widest boulevard through slivered windows gives the diner a fairly cosmopolitan feeling. It's more than a stone's throw from Koreatown, giving it the distinction of proximity to Mid-Wilshire's offices and older residential areas, and only a short drive from the La Brea corridor. Like many of the top Korean barbecue restaurants, the menu goes beyond your basic barbecue by offering a great selection of traditional stews and soups. I'd have to get a few other brave souls to join me to try these, but I'd bet my selvedge jeans that they're excellent. You can get a taste of them with a combo order, which comes with a smallish bowl of soondubu or doenjang jjigae, or even bibimbap. 

Open ordering, you're gifted with twenty-some tiny bowls of banchan, most of which contain two or three bites each. The variety astounds, but the excellence of each particular banchan is what gives your impression staying power. Polish off a half dozen and request a refill - you'll be answered with fresh bowls. Just from memory, you can get kimchi, daikon kimchi, omelet, vegetables of all types, and potato salad (obligatory in L.A.-style Korean BBQ). Selection seems to change pretty often. I would pit this variety against the truly excellent banchan of Jun Won and Soban, though the latter two win on overall quality.

You also get an above average iceberg lettuce salad that the restaurant deems "special," but I wish they could have another element in the salad that puts it over the top. POG-like slivers of daikon in rice vinegar come alongside another obligatory wrap item: rice paper.

If you get one of the combos, which is really ideal if it's your first time there, you can pair either sliced brisket and pork belly (the classic one-two punch of the AYCE bunch) or bulgogi and galbi, which are more traditional offerings of the a la carte setup. The marinaded meats really shine here, just lightly gilded with shimmery sauce, a hint of sweetness and soy that elevate the tender beef to some of the best I've had on either shore of the Pacific. Most of the best beef barbeque places in Korea tend to be swanky, traditional affairs, with Australian beef featured in humble slabs. Like those restaurants, Genwa's servers place the meat the grill for you, though you have to finish the job youself. I would argue that our American version of Korean barbecue is better than the motherland's counterparts, if only because of the better produce and superior beef.

Genwa Korean Barbecue
5115 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

1 comment:

Cookie Chomper said...

You're right about the whole package. On its own, Genwa's meat does not seem anymore delectable than Park's. But as a whole, I'm sold.