Monday, January 26, 2004

Kalbi in the air
Garden Buffet

There has been much talk about Korean grilled meats on Chowhound of late. See here and here et seq. Totally independent, we've been planning a trip with some friends to the Korean buffet, Garden Buffet. We had a very nice dinner on Saturday.

I think, perhaps because Garden Buffet is, well a buffet, it might rate much higher on the hip-o-meter. I for, though, never sneer at all you can eat. Still, no sojutini's, just big bottles of OB beer that made a fantastic accord.

I really think a buffet format accentuates this form of eating. At non-buffet places I sometimes find myself begging for more lettuce, a mysterious hot sauce at another table or some other accoutrement. At Garden Buffet, you just help yourself. More lettuce, more scallions, more chunks of raw garlic, just grab. Which hot sauce, try 'em all. Mix and match the sesame oil, vinegar, soy, and salt-mixture to a 101 slurries. Want to try one piece of Korean chitlin', toss it on the grill. If the panchan or meats are not quite as elegant, these other features make up.

The other key features about Garden Buffet: excellent ventilation and tongs. The lump wood charcoals are ventilated down not up. Your table remains relatively smoke free, and the next day, aside from the garlic burps, you may not realize as much where you ate. I am reasonably adept with chopsticks, but I find it so much easier to work the grill with the tongs. So, good ventilation and easy handling of the food make Garden Buffet a great place.

I never touched any of the sushi at Garden Buffet the other night, but the selection was more than usual. I tried one fried wing, but it tasted too much like a McNugget. Mandoo (dumplings) did look good, but I was too full by the time I got to them. I do very much like the traditional close to Korean BBQ, the cold soba noodles with the do-it-yourself saucing.

I'll give Garden Buffet, because of all user-friendly features, a 5.4 on the hip-o-meter.

Garden Buffet Restaurant
5347 N Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625-2307
(773) 728-1249