Up in smoke
Yunece619657 Folsom Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95827
Barbecue has infinite varieties, all with dedicated partisans—variations in the saucing, dry or wet ribs, tri-tip or brisket—but after visiting a few too many barbecue joints in the course of a given summer, they all start to feel the same. It’s nice to find a barbecue spot that takes a truly fresh approach. Yunece 61, which is hiding in plain sight on an unpromisingly remote stretch of Folsom Boulevard, does just that.
Yunece 61 offers all the usual suspects, such as smoked meats, ribs and pork sandwiches, plus soulful all-American sides like cornbread, baked beans, greens, and macaroni and cheese, but with a difference. The part of town the restaurant inhabits, just off Bradshaw and Highway 50, is best known for a very different kind of barbecue: Korean. Yunece 61 offers Korean and other Asian-inflected grilled items in addition to its slow-smoked choices, showing off a wide range of what smoke and fire can do for meat. It’s a brilliant combination of cuisines, and a great place to please a group of barbecue eaters with different opinions.
It’s also considerably more upscale than your average smoke pit, with cloth napkins (they must have a good laundry service), a very spacious dining room and some decorative frills that try hard—though not always successfully—to create a fancy atmosphere. There’s a full bar and flat-screen TVs for those who want to enjoy the food on the premises, but the restaurant also does catering and would be a great place to pick up a lavish picnic to enjoy at nearby Goethe Park.
The lengthy menu ranges from hot links or baby back ribs to salmon teriyaki or a chichi grilled portobello mushroom. There’s a wide range of appetizers, most of which seem designed to appeal to groups out on the town to watch the big flat-screen TVs or listen to music: spring rolls, chicken fritters, popcorn shrimp and so on. I was intrigued by the grilled mussels with herb oil and feta cheese, but with a big barbecue meal ahead of us, we decided to concentrate on the meat, at the expense not only of the starters but also of the many, many salads, from spinach with honey-glazed walnuts and bacon to old-school iceberg wedges with blue cheese.
As it turned out, we might have had room for a little something to start with. Yunece 61’s portions are pleasingly restrained; you’d have to work hard to come away from this place with the gut-busting “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” feeling that is so frequently a feature of barbecue meals.
We couldn’t stay away from the combination plate, which offers a choice of any three meats plus two sides. Ribs were an immediate yes, and we also tried the tri-tip and some more unusual pork collar. The ribs were sticky, chewy in a good way, not too fatty and quite delicious, especially with the hauntingly complex, tangy barbecue sauce. Chili-heads and heat hounds may want to go elsewhere—this isn’t incendiary barbecue—but I loved the sauce, which was high in flavor if not in its heat index. The tri-tip was a tiny bit dry, but again, the sauce fixed that. The pork collar had a great smoke flavor and the characteristic ring of pink on each slice.
Sides were a tough call, but we went for the cornbread and the macaroni and cheese. The cornbread was light and barely sweet, and it tasted homemade. The mac and cheese was clearly made with processed cheese, but it was creamy and not bad, in a nostalgic, kid-pleasing way. (I don’t know why more barbecue joints don’t offer better mac and cheese. It’s not hard to make, and when it’s really good, it’s great.)
Though I sampled everything, the combo plate was really my husband’s lunch. After consulting with the server (who I believe was the owner), I ordered the grilled spicy pork. It’s not listed as such on the menu, but as she said, it’s essentially pork bulgogi; the “sweet glazed beef” listed above it is beef bulgogi. Both of those come under the heading “special entrée,” where the Asian-influenced specialties are to be found. The spicy pork arrived flavorfully glazed and slightly, appealingly charred, with a huge pile of steamed green beans and a mound of rice sprinkled with black sesame seeds. In a classy little touch, the darkly glazed pork was sprinkled with contrasting white seeds. It was about the healthiest barbecue lunch I’ve ever seen—and darned good to boot.
We also got an extra side of baked beans, ostensibly for our daughter, who loves beans, but we ended up polishing off a lot of them ourselves. They were slightly sweet and more chili-like than the average baked beans, with shreds of meat and a thickly spiced (but not too hot) sauce around them: a nice change from the usual.
In addition to a classic like peach cobbler, the dessert menu at Yunece 61 has a smart idea: grilled fruit. Why don’t more places with a grill do this? The fire is sitting right there. The grilled pineapple, alas, was better in conception than execution. The caramelized fruit was great, but it was topped with tons of fake whipped cream and maraschino cherries. It’s a shame, but it easily could be fixed by substituting ice cream for the depressing whipped topping. The excellent barbecue, Korean and American, at Yunece 61 deserves an equally excellent ending.