KOREAN GRILL HOUSE (214 Queen West, at Duncan, 416-263-9850) Suburban all-you-can-eat do-it-yourself Seoul food barbecue chain moves downtown with mixed results. Pig out on the 'cue but avoid ho-hum bento boxes. Warning: next to nothing for vegetarians other than salad. Bonus: open Friday and Saturday until 5 am. Complete meals for $20 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a prune juice. Open Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am to midnight, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 5 am. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
If supper at Korean grill house isn't cooked properly, it's your own damn fault. At this just-opened Clubland outpost of the suburban barbecue chain, carnivorous customers cook their own meals on propane-powered stoves built right into each table.
Better yet, KGH's spread is all-you-can-eat: $12.95 at dinner, children under eight years old $8.95 ($8.99/$5.99 at lunch and after 10 nightly, Friday and Saturday till 5 am). Hungry under-eight-year-old club kids are gonna love this place.
They'll dig the spartan decor, too: narrow red banquettes, whitewashed walls, high ceilings outfitted with powerful ventilation ducts to suck all that smoke. Nearly inaudible classical music plays somewhere in the background.
It's quite the deal. At lunch and late at night, other than several vegetarian banchan side dishes - peppery kimchee, lightly marinated bean sprout namuls and cubes of delish deep-fried tofu dusted with red chili powder, miso-like beef and daikon soup, plain rice - the spread's all meat: tenderized cheap cuts of fatty, thinly sliced pork, beef and chicken.
Forget the squid and unidentified fish fillet. Like all seafood here, they're frozen. And besides, they can't be grilled because they stick and must be boiled instead in water that's poured around the edges of the cone-shaped cast-iron cooking surface, or bulpan. For everything else, use tongs to grab some flesh and slap it on the barbie - it's ready in seconds.
At dinner, cross-cut Korean-style Kalbi beef ribs, liver and fabulous tongue get added to the bargain. Servers warn not to cook watery marbled Atlantic salmon - frozen, alas - directly on the grill. Ignore the advice. Cook the fish about 15 seconds a side and it's fine, if mushy and flavour-free. And make sure to ask for KGH's own roasted-pepper hot sauce. Subtler than most, it adds just the right oomph.
Don't bother with the ineptly prepared and overpriced bento boxes. Both grilled eel ($12.99) and a combo of six heavily battered, previously frozen prawns and gristly short ribs and singular lamb chop ($16.99) - chopped-up, more like - seriously disappoint. Why pay for a set of banchan side dishes ($7.50) when they're free with the all-you-can-eat meal deal? And after all that meat and so little veg, might we suggest a prune juice ($1.50)?
back uptown, another new kor-ean spot's just opened. Chang Choong Grandma (642 Bloor West, at Euclid, 416-539-8817) takes its name from owner Yeo Myung Soo's grandmother's restaurant back home in Seoul. The lineup's very limited at the moment but worth checking out if just for the joint's Jok Bal ($16.95 small/$28.95 large).Subtitled Seasoned Pig Pit, the handle doesn't do the dish justice. Imagine thinly sliced pork skin stuffed with slow-cooked shoulder and other miscellaneous pig parts, wrapped in leaf lettuce and augmented by thick raw garlic slices and two sauces - one chili-stoked, the other a fishy nam pla clone.
Another communal platter, Hae Mul Pa Jeon ($9.95) could be Korean pizza, a dense pancake littered with minced seafood, scallion and the occasional chili.