As Korean food seems to be on the endangered species list in Orinda, it is necessary to venture all the way to Concord to experience the gourmet offerings of the Gen Korean BBQ House, which recently opened its doors at 1353 Willow Pass Road on the corner near the Water World Amusement Park.
Once inside this small Southern California chain eatery, one is transformed into an art deco environment where blue lighting sets the mood for an extraordinary dining experience. At each of 59 tables and several rows of counter seating, one can, at each table, find an indentation (or well), where patrons grill food in a kind of do-it-yourself Benihana way.
Every diner is given a menu, which is encased in a hardbound book. For lunch, there are 27 choices of assorted beef, pork, chicken, and fish to choose from. There are eight additional items for dinner.
While trying to determine what meats are to be selected, a large family-style salad is served with the tasty ginger-sesame vinaigrette that one finds in Asian restaurants. In addition, small plates of traditional Korean kimchee and cold, glass noodles (jap chae) are served.
Then, the good stuff comes. To start with, my friend (and fellow reporter) Richard Colman and I tried Gen’s special blade steak and angus brisket along with sweet teriyaki with pineapple slices. While this was being cooked along with seasonal fresh vegetables, we ordered some white rice to refresh my pallet.
Our attentive waiter was very good at turning the large pieces of meat and cutting them with scissors, which each table is outfitted with. Currently, several experienced trainers are on site teaching new employees “The Gen Way” of doing business.
When the tasty morsels of steak reached our plate, we were given a large selection of sauces to dip the cooked pieces in. Green tea salt, chadol, cajun, and gobchang were our favorites. Between courses, they also served these fried chicken buds, which proved to be addictive to us.
Gen is not a place for a “bun and run” kind of meal. To savor all that they have to offer, it is best to allocate at least an hour and a half for lunch or dinner. There is a lot to try and not to be missed.
There is no limit on what can be ordered. Menu exploration is encouraged. After our party had our fill of steak, we continued on to a couple of varieties of pork belly (samgyubsal). We especially liked the meats marinated in red wine and with cajun flavorings. Then came different types of calamari (squid), chicken, and shrimp — all to complete our dining experience with the grill.
If one is still hungry, Gen has an assortment of mochi ice cream sandwiches or, as they call them, Macarons. They looked great, but we were too full to try one of these tasty looking treats.
After consuming all of these gourmet offerings, of what can normally considered high priced entries, no guilt exists. Everything thing we ate was included in the all-you-can eat tradition. Now, the bad news. With exception of soft drinks and alcohol, the price to gorge yourself at Gen Korean BBQ runs $16.95 for lunch and $24.99 for dinner.
On a positive note, the meal is an excellent value, considering the high quality proteins that are utilized. In fact, when I chatted with the affable manager of the restaurant, Manny Francisco, he said that Gen depends on volume to make a profit. Even now, there are lines out the door, especially on weekends, with patrons waiting to enter this trendy venue.
Gen Korean BBQ House is open from 10 A.M. until 11 P.M. every day except Friday and Saturday, when closing time is an hour later. Reservations for parties of 10 or more can be made at (925) 798-5679.