The grilling pan was shallow with a raised center, shaped like a dome, with a moat ringing the bottom.
How handy to catch all those meat juices.
Newly opened Hanilkwan Bulgogi Restaurant served a different style of tabletop Korean barbecue than I’ve encountered in Lakewood’s Korean dining district.
The protocol at Lakewood’s five other tabletop barbecue restaurants is similar: Platters of raw meat are shuttled to tables and cooked atop a grill built into the table. The cooking vessels differ slightly, but they’re usually a flat surface set atop a gas burner.
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At Bulgogi Korean Restaurant, the pan arrived with a pre-assembled meat-noodle-and-vegetable feast. It held raw strips of marinated bulgogi, slippery noodles, onions, scallions and chunky-chopped mushrooms with a pool of broth in the moat.
It was like a big platter of meat soup. Don’t think of it as hot pot, though. This pan of bulgogi was shallow, the broth minimal. Owner Jerry Her, who has 25 years experience as a chef and most recently worked in Denver, called his style of tabletop barbecue a traditional version.
You also can call it tasty.
Here’s a first-bite look with dining notes. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
Interior: The dining room looks much as it did when it was Bon Asian Hot Pot, which closed in January. Same handsome, modern dining room with polished concrete floors, with roomy tables and comfy padded sturdy black chairs. That comfortable seating invites diners to stick around and grill awhile.
Menu: Two pages with tabletop barbecue listed on the top left on the Hanilkwan Special menu. Grill-at-your-table meat choices includes spicy chicken kalbi ($14.95), spicy pork bulgogi ($14.95), spicy calamari ($14.95), beef bulgogi ($16.95), spicy chicken and pork cutlet ($25.95), spicy chicken and Korean (soondae) sausage ($25.95) and more.
The remainder of the menu includes traditional Korean soups and dishes: Korean (mandu) dumplings ($9.95), bulgogi bibimbap ($12.95), pork cutlets ($12.95 to $13.99), various beef and Korean sausage entrees ($11.95 to $24.99) and soups, including sullangtang ($9.99), soondae guk ($10.95), kalguksoo ($10.99) and more.
Protocol: Two diners are required to order the tabletop barbecue and the same meat must be ordered for both diners. For solo orders, the meat is cooked in the kitchen. Prices listed on the Hanilkwan Special menu are per person and include meat, rice and all the fixings one gets at Korean tabletop barbecue.
The grill: Nine barbecue tables are equipped with gas grills built into the base of the tables. (Another 10 or so tables are for feasting on Korean soups or entrees such as bibimbap, separate from the barbecue menu).
Do I really have to cook? Yes, but a server gladly will help. Ours assisted without asking. Service was friendly and accommodating.
Order the: Bulgogi on a first visit. As mentioned above, the marinated beef came as more of a soup style than the typical platter of meat you might expect of any other Korean barbecue restaurant along South Tacoma Way.
As is protocol for most Korean restaurants, a broad assortment of dishes comprise a Korean meal. Basically, it’s a giant feast shuttled to your table and you eat all you want. Our server asked several times if we wanted more food. Out of consideration for my health, I politely declined after the second round of refills.
First came salad, dressed with dual squiggles of one tangy and one creamy dressing and then six styles of banchan, which are pickled and spiced vegetables that are the flavor fuel of Korean cuisine.
There was spicy kimchi, spicy pickled daikon radish, two styles of pickled cucumbers, soy-splashed bean threads and pickled jalapenos and onions. All of it is made by Her and his staff.
Right after the pan of meat arrived, so did a bowl of steamed rice accompanied by a bowl of milky colored beef-bone broth, a traditional Korean soup base. As the bulgogi and noodles sizzled atop the cooking pan, our server spooned broth over the meat. It pooled at the bottom of the pan along with the onions, which created a tasty soup our server instructed us to spoon over the rice. I gladly complied. It was delicious.
Spirits list: Korean wines ($12.99), soju ($12.99) and Korean, import and domestic beers ($4 to $7.99).
Note: Roasted corn tea comes with the meal.
More Korean barbecue: Curious about Korean tabletop barbecue in Lakewood? These restaurants serve DIY barbecue along a one-mile stretch on or near South Tacoma Way: Cham Garden Korean BBQ, Dae Won Garden, Chung Ki Wa, New Gangnam and Palace BBQ.
Hanilkwan Bulgogi Restaurant
Where: 3615 Steilacoom Blvd SW, Lakewood
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily