It was ironic that I, possessing minimal cooking skills, actually ventured into the Cooper Square branch of Gyu-kaku, the Japanese BBQ chain specializing in tableside grilling of meats, fish and veggies. Thing is - as their slogan proclaims, "Be your own chef". Um, ok.
The restaurant itself is huge, dimly-lit and packed with groups of mostly Asian diners, who looked like they knew how to operate the smokeless braziers that were guaranteed not to make your clothes smell like grilled Kobe beef (says Gyu-kaku's site, and something I can attest to).
Our group of six (damn two no-shows!) hungry chowhounds opted for the Shogun and Geisha prix-fixe menus. Notwithstanding the title of this post, we did have some raw fish - the first appetizer was salty, diced chunks of ahi poke, a Hawaiian tuna delicacy. Next came more appetizers - kimchee (willingly gave away my share), salad, gyoza soup. By now we were raring to taste some juicy meat dishes and test our culinary skills (the others, anyway).
The server brought plates of US Kobe toro steak and my personal favorite Kobe kalbi (short ribs, pictured) and instructed us to grill them on each side for 45 and 30 seconds, respectively. The foil-wrapped asparagus and mushroom medley followed quickly, and these had to be left on the grill for 3 minutes on each side - the tell-tale sign that they had to be turned over was if the foil expanded. Hysterically enough, our group seemingly possessed a combination of poor listening and comprehension skills, as there resulted some mild confusion as to which dish had to be grilled for how long, and we had to ask the server to repeat the instructions. Good for some chuckles and kept the group's spirits animated (helped along by the sake).
Oh yeah, throw in poor time keeping skills as we sometimes lost track of how long the veggies had been sitting there while we yakked away, but the mushrooms and veggies were none the worse for wear and tasted delicious like all the other dishes. Pretty soon, Tai and Joel (the primary grill masters) got the routine pat down and worked their magic on the Chilean sea bass, harami (skirt steak), chicken basil, and shrimp garlic. Trust me, it was every inch the glorious feast that it sounds like.
Dessert provided a pleasing end to a fun, interesting and entertaining evening. The first one was a nostalgic favorite for all Boy Scouts out there - S'mores with marshmallows and chocolate (milk or dark). I let Joel do the honors in toasting my marshmallow lightly, as my camping skills are even more non-existent than my cooking skills. We were a bunch of happy campers (pun intended) munching on this sinfully rich, gooey treat.
Gyu-kaku's signature dessert, Dorayaki ice cream, followed suit. The pancakes are grilled for five (count 'em!) seconds on each side, and topped with a choice of green tea, red bean or vanilla (boring!!!) ice cream. An innovative if somewhat strange combination. The pancakes pictured seem to have been ever-so-slightly burnt but nonetheless tasted amazing. Dining at Gyu-kaku is a wonderful experience for every meat lover - even if you have to do your own cooking :-)