With all the Korean barbecue restaurants dotting Foothill Boulevard in La Crescenta, there's little reason to drive to Korea Town for your grilled meat cravings. Surajung Korean B.B.Q. is a top choice for decor and service, but it left me generally unimpressed in the food department.
Surajung changed ownership about a year ago (it used to be called Surasang) so I was curious to check out the changes. My most salient memory of the old restaurant was their awful, chewy pork meat. Luckily, that has changed. But I also remembered Surasang's delicious shabu-shabu and the bounty of fresh vegetables they provided with their grilling meats. Sadly, both of those things are gone now. Nonetheless, we soldiered on.
My friends and I opted for the $11.99 all-you-can-eat lunch special. I've heard that unlimited amounts of four kinds of meat are freely offered for the table's communal grill. I say "I've heard" because we were not allowed to order it. We wanted to sample other things from the menu and the $11.99 deal ($21.99 at night) is only valid if all members of the party order it. So we ordered off the main menu and for a whopping $19.99 we got some marinated chicken.
Our waitress confided that this was higher-quality meat than the all-you-can-eat variety. I admit it was tasty hot off the grill with its sweet garlic-soy marinade. But as I mentioned, I missed my veggies. They do bring a wide selection of banchan (side dishes), however. These side dishes can turn an ordinary meal into a real adventure. We nibbled on mung bean cake, nutty soy beans, tender potato chunks, seasoned bean sprouts, green salad, turnip kimchi and a really good, rather spicy, cabbage kimchi. We particularly liked the salad with its light, oil-free, lemon-soy dressing but found most of the other side dishes somewhat bland.
We tried a couple of items off the hot pot menu. The spicy beef soup ($8.99 lunch; $9.99 dinner) had a nice broth and was not greasy, as it can be. Still, I can't say I'd order it again. Another disappointment was the vegetable and rice hot pot ($10.99 lunch; $11.99 dinner). Sizzling rice is placed in a hot stone pot where it starts to form a crispy bottom. Atop this are thinly sliced veggies and a fried egg. It looks pretty but has little flavor. I was hankering for some vinegar or soy sauce, but perhaps that's my crass American palate. I was, however, pleasantly intrigued by the soup that comes with the rice. They call it beef soup. I believe it is actually made from beef bones as it has a yellowish-clear broth and tastes faintly like marrow.
The waitresses could not have been nicer, and the service was very efficient. Their excellent English made it easy for this non-Korean to communicate with them, which is important because the menu does not give many details. It helps to know that the items on the meats page, such as chicken, beef brisket, kalbi (ribs) and pork belly ($19.99 to $34.99), provide more than enough food for one person but not quite enough for two. And cooking the meats over the communal grill is great for in-depth conversations, especially if coupled with some soju ($12.99), Korea's national liquor akin to vodka or sake. Just don't get it too close to the grill.
LISA DUPUY has been reviewing local restaurants since 2008. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.
What: Surajung Korean B.B.Q.
Where: 3747 Foothill Blvd. #H, La Crescenta
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Prices: All-you-can-eat lunch/dinner specials $11.99/$21.99; meat & seafood entrees $12.99 to $59.99; hot pots and noodles $8.99 to $17.99