Korean barbecue is oft-mentioned for being absent from Reno’s dining options. The typical experience involves raw, prepared meats and vegetables that you cook on a small gas grill at your table. It’s a bit of a question whether our local market will find the concept—and price—appealing, but Ijji 4 Bar-B-Que has taken up the challenge as Reno’s first such establishment.
The meal begins with banchan, small side dishes traditionally served with a Korean meal. In this instance, bowls of seaweed salad, red potato, bok choy, kimchi, bean sprouts, fried fish cakes and a green salad with vinaigrette. All were enjoyable in their own way and enhanced the experience. Additionally, a tray with a couple dipping sauces and a blend of ground spices is provided for each diner. I didn’t make much use of these, as the marinades and seasonings on the proteins provided more than enough flavor.
Dinner ($29.95 per adult, $19.95 per child) includes an all-you-can-eat selection of nine appetizers, three hot pot stews, 25 meats and eight fresh vegetables. We ordered japchae, a stir-fried mix of meat, veggies and glass noodles—so-called due to their translucent appearance—made with sweet potato starch. Bold flavors of toasted sesame oil, soy sauce and a variety of spices made this dish one of the best things we tried.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the fried rice cakes, four small cylinders of compressed rice drizzled with a sweet sauce. They were a little crispy on the outside, but quite gummy on the inside. We didn’t finish them. From the stew list, we shared a bowl of bubbling hot Korean miso soup—a very savory, spicy concoction full of zucchini, onion and a few cubes of tofu. It’s definitely something I’d order again, though I felt it could have included a bit more bean curd.
Moving on to the main attraction, a server fired up the grill and started us off with wagyu bulgogi—marinated, thin-sliced Kobe-style beef—grilled with fresh onion slices and white mushrooms. She demonstrated making use of the different temperature zones of the grill, and then used a pair of scissors to cut up the meat and onion about half-way through cooking. From there, we grilled the rest of our food, although it felt like the entire staff wanted to step in and help. It’s new and many of the servers are still learning.
Over the course of our meal, we sampled several marinated meats, including Hawaiian steak—top blade beef with sliced pineapple—Mojito lime pork shoulder steak, basil pesto chicken, and yangyum galbi—prime beef short rib. All were tasty in their own way, with the Hawaiian flavors edging out the rest just a bit.
Orders of head-on shrimp, spicy baby octopus, and filet of sole rounded out the meal. The seasoning on the shrimp was nice, but be warned. Your fingers will get pretty messy if you aren’t up to crunching on carapace. The sole was prepared in a foil pouch with butter and parsley, then placed on the grill. The poached fish was very soft and buttery, perhaps a bit richer than I’d like but fine in small doses. Though thoroughly deceased, the small cephalopods looked almost alive as their flesh firmed up and they wriggled around the grill. By my wife’s nonplussed reaction, I’d say this probably isn’t for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed their delicious dance.