TNT Diner

New Korean barbecue grills at this restaurant were built for big group dining

Thick-sliced pork belly, kimchi, and bean sprouts cook on a barbecue table at Dae Won Garden in Lakewood, Wash., on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017.
Thick-sliced pork belly, kimchi, and bean sprouts cook on a barbecue table at Dae Won Garden in Lakewood, Wash., on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

The restaurant is not new, but the Korean barbecue menu at Dae Won Garden is.

The Lakewood restaurant spent several months working on the tabletop grills. It fired them up in August.

That makes Dae Won the sixth Lakewood restaurant— all along the same two-mile stretch of South Tacoma Way — to serve Korean barbecue.

The restaurant is a reincarnation of another that the Joo family operated in the same exact location 15 years ago (minus the tabletop grills).

“My parents saw it was up for lease and decided to try it again,” said Jeannie Joo, whose mother Mi Joo operates Dae Won Garden today. Her grandmother also helps in the kitchen.

After selling the first version of the restaurant 15 years ago, her mother and father pursued professions outside restaurants but also helped with Joo’s uncle at his Federal Way restaurant, Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse.

The second version of Dae Won Garden opened in 2015 with a menu of traditional Korean soups and noodle dishes.

Expanding to Korean barbecue was an idea since the reopening, but installing gas lines and powerful venting hoods took quite a bit of planning, said Joo.

If you’ve never tried Korean barbecue, think of it as a royal feast. It’s a seemingly endless buffet shuttled to your table. You cook the feast atop a gas grill set into the table.

Dinner at Dae Won unfolded as it does at neighboring Korean barbecue restaurants in Lakewood’s Korean restaurant district. Here’s a quick tour.

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A tray of eight flavored pork-belly strips and a variety of banchan dishes are shown at Dae Won Garden in Lakewood, Wash., on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

Dinner barbecue: Korean barbecue is a group dining sport. Combination dinners are built for 2-3 diners (or more) and come in a multitude of choices. A pork combo came with pork belly, pork bulgogi and spicy pork bulgogi ($49.99). A beef combo listed brisket, beef bulgogi, short ribs and boneless beef ($69.99). Rainbow pork belly is a fun find with multiple marinades flavoring the pork belly ($59). Larger combinations with beef and pork were $79.99 to $99.99. Rice and accompaniments are all included in those prices.

Lunch barbecue: Lunch tabletop barbecue for two diners (or more) is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays with seven la carte meat choices ($13.99 to $15.99).

Cooking tables: Six barbecue tables with seating for four each in a back dining room.

An unusual find: Large barbecue tables with one big table seating 10 with two more next to it seating six each in the side dining room.

Hello, birthday party. Dividers can be removed to make one continuous barbecue table for about 20 diners, Joo said (Make reservations first).

The rest of the casual, tidy dining room holds tables small and large for diners ordering from the regular Korean menu. A private dining room is not outfitted for tabletop grilling.

The tabletop grill: A thick grill plate with a handy slope to divert runoff fat away from the cooking surface, was set atop a gas flame. Without asking, our server changed the grate after the first round of meat.

First, the meat: The pork combo sounded intriguing.

An oversized platter of raw pork belly, pork bulgogi and spicy pork bulgogi arrived with onions and mushrooms for grilling. It was enough meat for more than double the diners listed (two to three).

Our server chatted while she flipped the long, fat slices of pork belly onto the grill, cutting each strip into more manageable pieces. Next was tender pork, pre-cut into strips, with a light bulgogi marinade. The final meat was more of the same tender pork liberally coated in a spicy paste.

A server might help in the beginning, but diners are the real cooks here.

Be careful not to cross contaminate. Use tongs and scissors for raw meat. Pluck cooked meat from the grill with a clean utensil. Hold onto your kids because the venting above the table is pretty fierce.

Then, some greens: Next to arrive was fresh chopped lettuce with a bottle of spicy ginger dressing (you’ll want to put it on everything).

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A variety of banchan dishes are available at Dae Won Garden in Lakewood, Wash., on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

Behold, banchan: Dish after dish of banchan arrived next. Those miniature dishes are integral to fuel the flavor of a Korean barbecue feast. There was pungent kimchi, creamy cubes of cooked potato in a sweetened sauce, bean threads splashed with sesame oil, and fermented daikon radish. Yu choy with crunchy stalks carried a salty sauce. Sliced mushrooms and peppers tasted earthy.

But, wait. There’s more: Next was the usual dipping accompaniments, soybean paste and seasoned sesame oil, plus a choice of white rice or a rice mixture that included black (forbidden) rice and beans.

There’s soup, too: You’ll be asked if you want a choice of soybean paste or kimchi soup at the beginning or end of the meal. I always request the end and then regret that I have little room left.

The rest of the menu: The non-barbecue menu includes fried or steamed dumplings ($9.99), japchae noodles ($10.99), pancakes ($9.99 to $12.99), four kinds of bibimbap ($8.99 to $13.99), ramen ($7.99), kalguksu (cut noodle) soup ($9.99 to $11.99), buckwheat noodles ($9.99 to $13.99), soybean paste soup ($8.99), spicy soft tofu soup ($8.99) and many other dishes including grilled fish, stir-fries and casseroles.

Who else serves Korean barbecue? Along a two-mile stretch in Lakewood, there’s Cham Korean Garden (a barbecue buffet), Gil Mok Korean Barbecue Restaurant, which replaced O-bok last year, and newer destination New Gangnam Korean Barbecue (where Honey Pig once operated). There’s also Chung Ki Wa and Palace BBQ.

Dae Won Garden

Where: 9312 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Contact: 253-584-0733; facebook.com/daewongarden

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