Raw meat and an open flame. A classic combination with a simple preparation. The final product has a charred, crispy exterior and tender centre and dates back far — very far. The discovery of fire greatly affected how we consume protein. While the Paleo diet has gained traction recently (followers consume only foods found during the Paleolithic era, and some even subscribe to a raw meat diet, as cooked meat wasn’t around 10 000 years ago), I find most haven’t given this trendy weight-loss scheme the time of day.
Thankfully, my friends still prefer their meat prepared the modern way, so we recently dined at Sura Korean Restaurant. If you’ve had Korean barbecue, you won’t be shocked to find a large grill vessel embedded in each table. Diners get to cook their meal, observing the transformation raw ingredients undergo once subjected to heat.
Fair warning: this isn’t a restaurant for vegetarians. Yes, they offer vegetarian dishes, but it’s like ordering a latté at Tim Hortons.
Our table chose Bulgogi ($15.95) and L.A. Galbi ($18.95) for the grill. Bulgogi consists of incredibly thin slices of prime rib marinated in Korean barbecue sauce. L.A. Galbi involves a similar, smokier teriyaki sauce slathered on thin-cut beef short ribs. Both are delivered tableside and accompanied by assorted mushrooms. My favourites of the night were enoki mushrooms, the long and thin variety that always reminds me of fairy trees.
Servers ignite the flame, place a grill over it and then load every possible inch with your selections. Be prepared to wait; not everything will be cooked or ready at the same time.
The barbecued meat can go from the grill straight to your mouth if you so choose, but most diners pile it high on rice before devouring. The long marinating time and thin cut of meat means no fork or knife is required. Even teeth aren’t challenged.
All barbecue orders also come with a bevy of side dishes: little pots stuffed with steamy sticky rice, large lettuce leaves for wrapping handheld morsels and many tiny bowls of various salads (so long as you order the two-meal combo). Our table favoured a bean sprout salad tossed in sesame oil and kimchi. Kimchi is fermented cabbage and very spicy. We also tested our palates with Ssamjang, a salty and spicy dip made from bean paste.
If you visit, be sure to ask for a booth; the booths are the only spots in the restaurant with built-in grills. All other tables make do with portable variations. In order to use the grill, a table must order at least two barbecue dishes, so solo diners or those with fire-fearing friends are out of luck.
If you’ve ever suspected you were a pyromaniac in a past life, Sura Korean Restaurant deserves your business.