By Clarice Ong | Contributing Writer

Gen brings Korean barbeque to the Bay Area community. (Courtesy of Gen Korean BBQ House)

It has been over a month since the Winter Olympics wrapped up in Korea and Shaun White reminded us why he is a bona fide snowboarding legend. At about the same time, we learned from Chloe Kim that even record-setting gold medalists can go hangry. It could also be recalled that Red Gerard disclosed to us that despite oversleeping through our alarm, we could still bring our A-game. Meanwhile, Adam Rippon brought his light-hearted sense of humor and reminded us that serious athletes, like himself, are “glamazon [bitches] ready for the runway.” We need to wait another four years to be regaled by the athletic prowess of our Olympians. However, for those who are still savoring the memory of the recently concluded Olympics, Korean BBQ, such as that sampled by our athletes in Korea, can offer some solace.

Korean food has been one of the hippest cuisines in recent years. Korean fusion has grown popular. Korean fusion food, such as kimchi fries, kimchi mac and cheese, and Korean tacos, have found a loyal following in places such as the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Austin, Dallas, Louisville, New York, and Washington, D.C. In 2016, Google named bulgogi as one of the year’s hottest food items and a quick search on Google yields recipes for Korean food from American chefs such as Martha Stewart and various publications including Bon Appetit, The New York Times, Food Network, and Epicurious. Another popular item is Korean BBQ, which is as much about the food as it is about the experience of eating. These days, most cities are sure to have at least one Korean BBQ restaurant.

Gen Korean BBQ House, a short twenty-minute drive from the Saint Mary’s College campus, opened in Concord last January. They offer all-you-can-eat (AYCE) Korean BBQ for $16.99 during weekday lunch (excluding holidays) and $24.99 for dinner. The Los Angeles-based Korean cuisine franchise proudly touts that they draw inspiration from other delicious culinary traditions, which is evident in their high quality meat offerings such as premium steak, Cajun chicken, Cajun calamari, honey chicken, garlic chicken, Hawaiian steak, and Hawaiian bacon. Though these do make their restaurant stand out from other Korean BBQ AYCE restaurants, it is their celebration of classic selections—spicy pork and beef bulgogi, samgyubsal (pork belly), woo beasal (beef belly)—that really makes them shine. They also have selections such as woosul (beef center cut tongue) and gobchang (intestine marinated in teriyaki sauce) for those who are more adventurous.

As is the case with other Korean BBQ restaurants, Gen offers a communal dining experience. Diners walk into a smoky, modern dining room lit with ambient light and enveloped in enticing scents of spices both familiar and unfamiliar. Upon being seated, banchans (side dishes) of kimchi, Korean potato salad, sangchae (spicy radish salad), and cucumbers are immediately served to alleviate the hunger pangs. If the banchans were not enough to whet the appetite, popcorn chicken, soondooboo (spicy soft tofu) soup, dwenjang (fermented soybean paste) soup, and japchae (glass noodles) are also available and are usually served before the meats. Once the selected meats are served by Gen’s friendly staff, they take the center stage as they sizzle on the grill that is in the middle of each table. It is this process that makes Korean BBQ dining more of an experience rather than a simple act of sustenance.

Since the menu is extensive, one of the wiser strategies is to go with a larger group of friends and family so that you could sample as many of the selections as possible. While watching over the grill and waiting for the food to be ready, one of the rarer occurrences of modern life takes place: friends and family gathered around the table to share a meal. This convivial gathering is made more enjoyable by the act of watching your meats of choice cook over the open fire while their mouth watering aromas tease the appetite, an exercise that has been part of the human experience since prehistoric times.

Though eating Korean food would most likely not help enhance athleticism or help make the wait for the next Olympics any shorter, Gen Korean BBQ provides gustatory delights the likes of which were enjoyed by the Olympians who dazzled us a mere few weeks ago.

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