As we’ve mentioned before on this blog, my parents love to visit us in LA to celebrate special occasions. So for my mom’s birthday dinner earlier this month, they drove up for a K-Town adventure to one of our favorite Korean restaurants, Genwa. There’s a certain appeal to hole-in-the-wall joints where the cleanliness is questionable and the service is nearly nonexistent, but Genwa falls on the opposite end of the spectrum. With a spotless dining room, impeccable service, high quality cuts of meat, and two dozen varieties of banchan, Genwa is definitely the place to take guests (or maybe that special date).
Genwa’s menu features cuts of beef that blow those the cheap all-you-can-eat places out of the water. Gorgeous marbling, generous thick slices, marinated, plain, if you can dream it, they just might have it. Every dish is available a la carte, or you can choose one of the many preset menus. For our party of four (yes, Martin and I go on “double dates” with my parents) we selected Course E at $125.
The sheer quantity of banchan available at Genwa is simply staggering. Pickled vegetables, dried fish, kimchi (cabbage and cucumber alike), salted bean sprouts, potato salad, even small squares of pajyun (Korean pancakes). All excellent accompaniments to the grilled meat. Better still, if you favored any of these, there’s an unspoken policy of free refills ;) We may or may not have gone through over 5 dishes of pajyun…
As part of the larger course sets, a bottle of soju comes complimentary. As if it were not strange enough drinking with my dad, it was stranger still to be sipping soju out of a shot glass with Psy’s caricatured face on it. I love the trick they do with the bottle cap in order to juice the lemon. It’s pretty cool, though difficult to describe…
Ahh, the house salad… the obligatory side dish of refreshing green leaf lettuce drizzled in a light acidic vinaigrette. Fragrant from the hint of sesame oil, the salads at Korean barbecue places always taste as though they’ve been perfectly formulated to pair well with meat.
Have I mentioned yet just how much I LOVE japchae? I love the chewy texture of the glass noodles, the bright colored julienned vegetables, and, in this particular version, the very fine ribbons of egg omelet. Genwa’s japchae is definitely worthy of your precious stomach space. (Though Course E was “recommended for 4 people,” we found it was a LOT of food!)
For this dish, Course E gives you a selection of dwenjang jigae (miso stew), kimchi jigae (kimchi stew), or bibimbap. At first I was leaning toward the soups for want of something hot, but I’m glad my mom stepped up and suggested the bibimbap. It turns out, the bibimbap at Genwa is actually dolsot bibimbap, served in a hot, sizzling stone pot! (That’s our server mixing the rice in the photo above; he joked that we would owe him a royalty for use of his hands. haha)
Bibimbap means “mixed rice” for its assortment of shiitake mushrooms, carrots, onions, scallions, and other vegetables with rice. Our server drizzled in a bit of gochujang (red pepper paste) and pressed the rice against the walls of the dolsot to maximize the crispiness.
I prefer my bibimbap with extra gochujang ;) Luckily he left behind the red squeeze bottle for our customization needs.
The first meat to arrive was the Kobe Special Ribeye. A beautiful pale pink in color from all of the bright white fat, these thick slices of ribeye are stunningly marbled. Place it on the grill and the fat just melts away.
Oh – when the server was setting up our grill, he tossed in an assortment of chunks of onion, bell pepper, button mushroom, and… skin-on sliced bananas? The bananas were confusing to say the least, but they were pretty darn tasty — hot, grilled, sweet, and sticky.
The next offerings were Kot Sal (thinly sliced unseasoned boneless prime short rib) and Prime Galbi (boneless marinated prime short rib with its rib bone). Though not “Kobe,” galbi cuts are always my KBBQ must-have favorites. Both are succulent and tender; if pressed, I’d have to give a slight edge to the sweet and savory marinated one as my favorite. The rib itself was a bit tough to eat with the hard cartilage and partly rendered fat, but I thought it was necessary to complete the experience.
Just when we felt like we were reaching our breaking point, out came our final dish – Shrimp & Scallop. The shrimp were sizable prawns and were slightly seasoned (soy sauce and sesame oil?). Sweet and briny, I only wish they arrived head-on (judging from their size, I’d bet the heads would be full of flavorful tomalley-like goodness).
Though only a pair, the scallops were fresh and looked lovely with the grill’s sear marks. We cooked them until they were just barely opaque. (In the background, you can see that we heated up our squares of pajyun on the grill as well… good as new!)
In a final act of showmanship, one of the waitresses brought out four little marshmallow-like tablets. Don’t eat them! Do you remember those magic towels that you could buy as souvenirs from amusement parks when you were kids? They’re baaaaaaaack!
The first time we went here, they served us a small flute of cinnamon iced tea at the end of the meal. I asked them if they had any, and though it was unavailable, they did bring out iced sweetened barley tea that was equally palate-cleansing and refreshing. We were pleased.
With a solid 4.5 stars over 1,200+ reviews and a cushy seat on the top 5 “Best of Yelp: Los Angeles” list for as long as I can remember, Genwa impressively lives up to the hype. Just ask my mom — she seemed to really enjoy her birthday celebration! ;)
Check out Genwa Korean BBQ: genwakoreanbbq.com
5115 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
See their Yelp reviews here!