I have a reasonably sized collection of old friends — buds, housemates and so on — with whom I get together every now and then for a beer-fueled feed.
Over the years, we’ve found that steakhouses, no matter how serious they are, are pretty serious. more expensive. Southern barbecue is great. But there aren’t many joints where you’d want to spend an evening. Chinese seafood is fine, although the sodium content can be a challenge. That’s why we’ve settled into the wonderful world of Korean barbecue, where beer comes in big bottles, the grills are right in front of you – and you can do it yourself.
It can be both a blessing… and a curse. After a few too many bottles of Haight Beer, the care given to meat over the fire can be a bit, let’s say, distracted. What starts out as carefully cooked slices of beef and pork and chicken… can turn into burnt offerings. Burnt slabs of protein. Barely edible flavored charcoal.
I remember ordering beef tongue at a Korean barbecue once, placing it on the grill, pouring myself another glass of suds—and realizing that the meat had disappeared, leaving behind the slightest hint of a crust.
That’s why I was more than happy to go to something modernist with some chums, not-quite-but-almost-elegant Gaya Korean Tofu and Grill In the Torrance Mini-Mall. We found that the meats cooked in the kitchen actually tasted the same as they were. That is to say, Beef Short Rib (Galby); beef, pork and chicken bulgogi; Chicken Teriyaki and Grilled Fish – either Yellow Crocker, Mackerel or Atka Mackerel (aka Arabic Greening).
The chicken bulgogi in particular was a showstopper! It was really… tender. It came with a crust, which did not turn it into a burnt offering. I was impressed. And we were fed. As we ordered another bottle of Height.
As the name suggests, Gaya has more to offer than barbecue. In fact, the tofu menu takes up a decent amount of real estate. There are 10 kinds of tofu soup—that’s a pot of broth for $12.99 and enough stuff for two serious appetites…at least.
Seafood soups include oysters, clams, and shrimp. Mixed soup is basically a seafood soup, but beef is added to make it fun. There is a choice of kimchi with beef soup or kimchi with pork soup. And it’s hard not to feel the affection for Mushroom and Beef Tofu Soup. Tofu is easily available. The rest of the material consists of a happy prey, digging until an oyster or a clam emerges from the bottom.
Tofu soup continues in eight combination recipes – the perfect blend of tofu soup with various galbis and bulgogis. And our old friend Bibimbob appears here for the first time. I’ve been obsessed with bibimbob (often transliterated as bibimbap) ever since I first tasted this delicious crazy rice and everything-but-kitchen-sink mess at a Korean restaurant in midtown Manhattan. When dinosaurs roamed the earth.
I couldn’t imagine Korean cooking without kimchi – or bibimbo without beer. That’s fine, though a little less cluttered than most. I made it for her with an order of seafood pancakes, which is exactly what it sounds like—a big, thick, outer pancake filled with oysters, clams, shrimp, and goodness who knows what else.
By comparison, the fried and steamed dumplings were underestimated – albeit very good, and a nice break from all that culinary chaos. Equally understated were banchan—small dishes that accompany every Korean feast—in this case, just kimchi, pickled bean sprouts, Korean-style potato salad, and slices of pickled zucchini. Less than a dozen banchan recipes are found at other barbecues, but more than enough.
There are also various gulby/bulgogi and noodle combinations. But since this is a tofu restaurant, not a noodle restaurant, I stuck with the soup. And anyway, there was a chill in the air, and the hot soup was much appreciated.
What is much appreciated is the Korean bento box of galbi, bulgogi and teriyaki-only lunches served with dumplings, sushi, rice and miscellaneous banchan for $13.99 to $15.99 – as good as an afternoon snack. There may be food. Although, of course, for lunch, I’ll pass on the beer, the responsible citizen that I am.
On the drinks list is Arnold Palmers, which sounds fine. Iced tea and lemonade should go very well with beef short rib and spicy pork barbecue. Exactly, in fact.
Meryl Schindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance food critic. Email [email protected]
Gaya Korean Tofu and Grill
- Rating: 3 stars
- Know: 4817 Torrance Blvd., Torrance
- information: 310-921-8599; www.restaurantji.com/ca/torrance/gaya-korean-tofu-and-grill-/
- Meal: modern korean
- When: Lunch and Dinner, Wednesday through Monday
- description: Excellent Korean Barbecue (and Tofu), Where You Do No Do the cooking yourself – meaning the meat is well cooked, not well burnt.
- Reservation: needed for large groups
- Climate: Fast enough to be a destination for Cal cuisine, with convenient mall parking and a private dining room for groups.
- Prices: about $35 per person
- In the expression list: 5 Appetizers ($10.99-$18.99), 6 House Special Appetizers ($12.99-$49.99), 10 Tofu Soups ($12.99), 8 Tofu Combinations ($16.99-$23.99), 13 Stew & Soup Dishes ($12.99-$18.99), 5 Rice Dishes ($12.99) ) -$18.99), 7 Noodle/Noodle Combo Dish ($12.99-$20.99), 6 Cooked in Kitchen Barbecue Dish ($17.99 – 23.99), 5 Lunch Box Dishes ($13.99-$15.99), To Go Family Pack Combo $48.99
- Credit Card: MC, V
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a visit from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, even exceptional. Worth a visit from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A good go-to for foodies Place. Worth a visit from anywhere. Neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry, and it’s nearby, but don’t get caught in on-going traffic.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)