Lunch Pig number 26 and it was time to figure out another place to go. I was in the mood for something completely different. Japanese, vegetarian, Indian, all of it was OK by me. Carl was quick to agree since we been eating a lot of sandwiches and Mexican food lately. So this is how our journey began.
Located at the Torrance Crossroads Plaza is a strip mall of casual restaurants, of the 10 restaurants, 6 of them are some sort of Asian fare, so we made our way there. Parking is always a problem and you can either fight with the people desperate to park as close as possible, or just walk a little ways. All of the restaurants have their lunch special menus posted outside in the walkway, after checking all of them we decided to try the Gyu-Kaku Japanese Barbecue. Mostly because they had a big banner outside claiming 5.99 lunches and happy hour prices, along with the most coveted of claims to a Lunch Pig, “All you can eat!”
Gyu-Kaku (牛角 gyū kaku, “bull’s horn”) is a chain of Japanese restaurants from Japan specializing in barbecued beef. What makes them unique from other places is the BBQ grill in the center of your table, you get tongs and you actually grill your own meats. In Japan they are very popular and have over 800 restaurants and are now starting to open restaurants in the United States. Their happy hour starts at lunch, they have a great variety of prepared dishes and BBQ platters offered at 50% off, as well as a great selection of Japanese beers at extremely low prices. I consider us lucky to have one very close by.
Oliver: Walking in I immediately noticed the very private dining in the booths. It gave you the sense of being in your own room. Very nice! I had no idea what to expect and there was no way I could have predicted this, you actually cook your own meat?? “What?” My jaw probably hit the table and that is when our waiter began to explain it to us. You pick from various sorts of meats, vegetables and seafood , prepared in a variety of ways and then like you would at your own BBQ, you grill it right in front of you. “Wow!” I thought, I can’t or won’t even make my own peanut butter and jelly sandwich or hotdog on my own, but now I’m going to grill my own Kobe steak? I was fully wanting to try something new, and I had gotten my wish, so I jumped in head first and ordered the assortment of raw meats which included some beef, some chicken, some pork sausage and some shrimp. You can order all sorts of meats including traditional Yakishabu beef, short ribs and even filet Mignon. This was going to be fun.
Right away the waiter brought me my Miso soup and a salad. Both were very good. People ask which is the correct way to eat or drink the Miso Soup? Usually you are supposed to actually drink the soup much like a hot cup of coffee, but if you are given a soup ladle than you are supposed to use that and only drink the remaining soup. So there is a little bit of latitude in there.
There are three selections of dipping sauce for the meat : sweet and spicy, tsuke and ponzu. In Japan Gyu-Kaku sells these in super markets and are very popular. The spicy is not very spicy, so don’t worry about using it if you are not accustom to spicy foods, it is actually a bit sweet.
Once you get your meat, it is time to start grilling. You use the tongs to place your meats through out the grill and carefully start grilling. I am not a cook, and I am also paranoid of not having my meat cooked enough. thankfully the waiter offers advice and I got Carl to help a cook in trade for some BBQ. Once the meats start finishing you can dig in and try the various sauces they offer. Everything tasted great and what an adventure for a quick lunch. Just look at the at the table. Hard to believe this is part of a meal that can cost around $8 including a Japanese beer. The steak was great, the chicken was even better, the shrimp and ht epork sausage all were great. I can not beleive this meal cost under $10.
This place is what the spirit of Lunch Pig is all about, a discovery, a great deal and an adventure, all with-in a few blocks of the office and easy on the wallet. If you have to take out a client or someone and want to impress them, or want to take out the cute receptionist and look like someone who has an educated palate, then you need to visit Gyu-Kaku. They get 5 pigs and deserve every pig face!
CARL: As Oliver and I proved today that you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Gyu-Kaku looks like just another strip mall fast food Japanese restaurant from the outside but – for the adventurous – there lies a terrific surprise inside. The lunch specials were fun and different with much to choose from. The prices on everything from Sushi to Asahi were discounted so I decided to go a different route and get a selection of appetizers as suggested by our friendly waiter. Since Oliver opted for the cook-it-yourself signature meal I went the a la carte route. First up a $1.49 Asahi beer and a bowl of edamame beans. The edamame was good, fresh and just the right flavoring. The $1.49 Asahi was cheaper than a soda and the perfect companion to the flavors of the lunch I was about to explore.
Next up on the a la carte appetizer parade was the fried calamari (on the right in the picture). The portion was generous and the accompanying sauce was delicious. Tiny calamari bits bug me so I was happy to see that the pieces of calamari were just the right size – big and bite sized. I asked our waiter what appetizer he thought was the most popular and he suggested the Tuna Volcano Sushi. I was skeptical about the volcano part as I’m not a big fan of super spicy things. I’m glad I asked because that was the highlight of the lunch for me. A wonderful combination of rice and tuna that gave the traditional Sushi a new twist. In addition to the appetizer smörgåsbord I ordered, Oliver shared some of his lunch and I have to say that every part of this meal was a treat. The waiter was friendly and helpful, the prices were very good, the dining area was first class and the adventure of it all was refreshing. I don’t give out 5 Lunch Pigs very easily but in this case, it is well deserved. A fun experience and a great value. You MUST try Gyu-Kaku!