Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Very Happy Hour @ Gyenari

My ideal happy hour joint has to meet various criteria. It has to be decently located (with relatively easy parking or valet), it should end no earlier than 7pm, offer good prices and have an extensive food menu. As such, Gyenari is the poster child for my idea of a good happy hour. House wine is $3, food prices range from $4-5, and the happy hour food menu includes possibly everything on their regular bar menu. I love it when the happy hour menu offers all that variety instead of three of the lamest dishes from their regular menu.

The place used to be more of an upscale Korean BBQ joint but ever since Debbie Lee (Next Food Network Star contestant) came on board, the menu has transformed into something much more interesting and exquisite. The dinner menu includes Korean BBQ fare, hot pots, other interesting dishes such as stews and galbee pot pie as well as various tasting menu options. The bar menu includes small plates with Korean influence; mini sliders, lettuce cups, tartare, dumplings, kimchee fried rice among others. With a vast bar menu like that, I doubt I'd ever actually try the dinner menu.

Gyenari is located in the trendy district in Culver City that houses many restaurants and bars. The interior is modern with exposed brick walls, high ceilings and wooden frames. The bar area looks like it could belong in Hollywood. There is ample seating at the bar counter, chairs and tables, and leather booths which we managed to snag. Although the happy hour menu listed that it ends at 7pm, it actually ends at 8pm. SCORE! But you should check with the waitress because you don't want to be unpleasantly surprised at the end of the night.

We waited over 15 minutes while out waitress came by to wipe down the table but never returned to take our orders. We eventually had to approach the hostess to take our orders. We started with a round of cheap drinks and ordered a couple (or many) small plates to share.

Simply saam: Lettuce wrap with glass noodles, bean sprouts, cucumber and a choice of meat (Spicy pork, bulgogi, chicken or tofu)
The meat was good but it wasn't as juicy or as spicy as I had hoped. Still, it was a fun dish to assemble and was substantial for $4.

You put together a bite that has a bit of everything. I liked the glass noodles and the marinated bean sprouts.

Curry turnovers
It was a pretty big turnover with flaky crust and a choice of chicken or vegetable filling. The chicken curry filling wasn't spicy. Somehow I was hoping it would pack a punch like the Indian samosas. Some at the table said that the turnovers were mediocre but despite the lack of heat, I really liked it as it reminded me of the curry puffs that I used to eat in Singapore.

Dumplings/Mandoo with choice of kimchee, beef & pork or shrimp & scallop.
We went with the kimchee which was a vegetarian option that included glass noodles, vegetables and tofu. The mandoo was good but did not have that strong pickled and spicy Kimchee flavor. In fact, you would probably not have known that it was filled with kimchee. It was still delicious especially with the thick salty dipping sauce.

Duo of Sliders, choice of Bulgogi, Curry crab cake or Spicy Pork
We got two orders of the bulgogi which is Korean short ribs. It was tender, a bit fatty in a good way and came with kimchee mayo, balsamic soy onions and cheese. I liked how the ingredients were all unique. They could have slapped on regular mayo and grilled onions but instead added additional Korean touches to the dish. The bread was soft and slightly toasted. Also a good deal at $4 per plate.

Closer look of the mini slider

Kimchee fried rice
Not once, but twice fried pork belly and a runny fried egg that oozed all over the rice. This was my favorite dish of the night and we ordered two plates. There was a nice amount of spice and strong Korean flavors in the dish. I liked that it was not your typical bar food. I mean, who serves rice for happy hour? But it did the trick; starch is always good to soak up the alcohol. And $4 per plate? Sign me up for more!!

The bill came up to $66 including tax and tip; that's for six drinks and nine plates of nibbles. What a good deal! Even the $3 wine was very drinkable. What I liked most about the happy hour was that the food was unique compared to regular watering holes and they offered many options. The flavors were good and satisfying, although besides the kimchee fried rice, the spice factor was on the milder side. I suppose the food is more Americanized and toned down a little. There were a hand full of items that I'd still like to try including the chicken wings and ribs. Besides the food, this place really rises up on my list of favorite happy hours because it ends at 8pm. I didn't feel rushed as I made the 45 minute drive from Hollywood. The dinner menu is pricier so if you are looking for a good deal, head over to the bar area instead. Also you have to keep in mind that the food is a bit Americanized so you aren't going to experience the strong, spicy Korean spices. On the other hand, it'd be a good primer for your friends that haven't been exposed to the cuisine. And as I have mentioned a thousand times, at $4 a plate, it sure beats many other bars.

Hits: kimchee fried rice, curry turnover, sliders, great prices, happy hour ends at 8pm!
Misses: can get crowded so get there early to secure seats, dishes could have been spicier
Rating: **** (for happy hour)

Gyenari
9540 Washington Blvd.,
Culver City CA, 90232
(310) 838-3131
http://www.gyenari.com/

1 comment:

Marissa said...

nice! was looking for a place for our next work happy hour. ;) Thanks for the review.