Sunday, April 6, 2014

Yellow Cow: A Happy Surprise KBBQ Hotspot in the South Bay !!!

When you've lived long enough, you realize that not all surprises are of the pleasant sort.  (Cue violins).

It's so easy to become cynical.  Even with food.  And when an invite to try a Korean BBQ spot, way out in Gardena, arrived in my inbox, I was...skeptical.  Especially when Ktown, with its treasure trove of mouthwatering and affordable korean eateries, is so accessible on an everyday basis.  Especially at the part where there was mention of "combo #1"...which immediately brings to mind "quick service restaurant".

But then scuba class brought us to the South Bay, so we decided to give Yellow Cow a try.

A small, cozy space in a non-descript strip mall was actually the first sign that we might love this place.  And owner Monica, a Korean mom who opened the restaurant 13 years ago, when her kids were young - and named the place after their favorite animal, plus the cheeriest color.  Who, in a sight unfamiliar to non-Korean diners in Korean restaurants: gregariously flits around the dining room like a mother hen, making sure everyone was being fed well, and having a good time. 

We were treated to a kaleidoscope of banchan as soon as we sat down. Monica explained that the banchan varies from day to day depending on what's fresh in market, or if inspiration strikes to do a certain special.  We loved every item that we had that night.
The picture heavy menu clearly caters to a community that may not be as familiar with more...ethnic cuisine.  There were step-by-step instructions in English of how to enjoy a korean bbq meal.

And first to appear on the list were set meals or the aforementioned "combo"s, presumably to make it easier for newbies to put appropriate dinners together. These combos mainly varied in the number of plates of proteins (choose from pre-set options) and all came with free rice cakes, steamed egg, steamed rice, and soju (or beer or soda) and of course the side dishes without which no korean meal would be complete.

Monica kindly offered us combo #2 ($68), which comes with 2 Meats + 1 Seafood + 1 Soup + 2 drinks.

Those used to AYCE meals in Ktown that average $25 per person might get a bit sticker shocked at first, but realize that $68 is for two people, with plentiful portions of quality ingredients that easily fed two average sized ladies past the point of satiation - plus alcohol.

On that note, we started with the Kalbi ("Marinated Beef Ribs" on menu, requires supplement of $5) which came as beautifully marbled, hefty, tender, juicy slabs that we could cut up with a pair of scissors and grill ourselves.  We loved this flavorful kalbi, toasted with our glasses of Hite beer.

Then came items that you don't see on every KBBQ menu: kurobuta pork belly ("Black Pork Belly" on menu, requires supplement of $3), known for being super fatty, flavorful, juicy and tender.  This also was presented as giant slabs of thick bacon strips, beautifully arranged on a wooden tray, that you get to cut up yourself so you can adjust to the size you want to grill.  Also provided is a cross section of onion that you use to 'rest' the pork on the grill if the cooking speed is exceeding your face-stuffing speed.

And if you were thinking that the protein offerings might be limited to what appeals to the masses: we just selected the heartier options as we were super hungry after scuba class - Yellow Cow actually features options for the more adventurous eater too, from beef tongue to intestines to tripe to duck breast.

For the seafood item included in our combo: we selected shrimp, which wasn't spectacular, but still fairly tasty.

Yellow Cow offers other items that you don't see everywhere either:  there was the free side that comes with any combo, a plate of thinly sliced radish in two colors, with jalapenos, garlic cloves and a fermented bean paste.  The pink radish slices were dyed with beet, while the white radish was flavored with vinegar and wasabi.
You use the radish to wrap up meat that's hot off the grill, and stuff it with the jalapeno, garlic (grill it too to release flavor) and bean paste.  The radish adds refreshing crunch that perfectly balances the smokey char and juiciness of the meat.  We really loved this: and korean bbq may not feel right without it again!

Of course, you can also put the meat on the mountain of slaw provided and pick some of that up with each bite of meat to add textural contrast while soaking up the lovely meaty juices.
This side of kimchi was some of the best I've ever had (disclaimer: obviously NOT a Korean food expert here, but personally I loved the balance of sweet, sour and heat, softness and crunch in Yellow Cow's version)
Every combo also comes with a side of Steamed Egg, which comes in a stone pot piping hot, a smooth and milder tasting side dish to balance out the bold flavors of the mains and other spiced-up sides.

Lastly, also included in the combo meals is your choice of soup: Miso, Kimchi or Ramen.  We went for the ramen, which came in a large kimchi chigae like, beautifully Day-Glo orange broth - enough to serve two.

For the uninitiated, Yellow Cow has the very 'authentic'ally Korean device of the tabletop call button, which you can use to get service on demand. We never had to use this during our dinner though, as Monica and her team were so attentive.
Aside from Combo #2, we also got to try Fried Dumplings (8pcs for $10) topped with a slaw of onion, cilantro and gochujang (pungent paste made primarily of chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans).

To finish, we tried Monica's original creation: Seaweed pancake - fried with sesame leaf - delicious and one of our favs of the meal!

All in all, the authentic korean barbecue, plus western style hospitality, plus bonus dishes showing creativity all make for a kind of surprise that also delights in Gardena.  Would I drive out to Yellow Cow if I lived in Ktown?  Probably not.  But Yellow Cow is definitely a great place for those in the South Bay, craving good Korean food and not willing to drive up to Ktown.  I know that if I ever find myself in the South Bay again and hungry for Korean, Yellow Cow would now be first to come to mind.

*Disclaimer: This meal was hosted


Yellow Cow
1835 W Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, CA 90247
Ph: 310.329.7343


Yellow Cow Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon

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