9844 Hibert Street, Scripps Ranch
A chorus of “konichiwas” greeted me as I walked into the Gyu-Kaku dining room for lunch. I’ve been a fan of the Japanese tabletop-BBQ chain since visiting one in Honolulu more than a decade back, but it’s taken me almost three years to realize that a location opened in Scripps Ranch.
I have fond memories of searing fresh basil-marinaded ahi one piece at a time, and I was initially bummed not to find it at this location. My disappointment quickly faded, though, when I realized that the menu has expanded to include items such as bacon-wrapped scallops, pork belly, and duck breast.
But the best reason to visit is the beef. If you’ve studied up on backyard grilling technique you know that it’s advised to let the steak rest when it first comes off the grill so that it retains its juices when you cut into it. But that also means the steak has cooled a bit by the time you start eating.
That’s not the case when you’re cooking meat on a hot grill in the center of your table. Unlike the Western grilling tradition, here you enjoy the steak while it’s hot. You must resist the urge to grill a lot of meat at once. Instead, cook the bite-sized portions a couple pieces at a time. Each piece takes only a minute on each side, so it’s not like you’ll get bored waiting for it to cook, and the reward is piping-hot umami joy.
I grabbed a one-person lunch special called the Meat Lover’s Set — two ounce portions of four different types of beef served with rice, salad, miso soup, and edamame for $11 —and added a foil-wrapped packet of broccoli crowns for two bucks. I started by trying one piece each of all four beef choices: hangar steak, rib eye, and a pair of thinly sliced cuts the restaurant calls yaki-shabu and toro beef.
Yaki-shabu seems to be a reference to both the thin slices of shabu shabu used in hot-pot cooking and to the spit-fired cooking of yakitori. Basically, it’s thin shavings of steak that sear quickly. The toro beef is a take on toro tuna, the fatty underbelly of the fish — thin like the shabu but fattier. Fatty in a good way.
Gyu-Kaku uses a variety of different marinades for each cut, ranging from sweet shoyu and miso to savory garlic and white soy, so each cut of steak differed in flavor as well as texture. All of them were satisfying, and I forgot all about the ahi. The foil packet of broccoli turned out pretty well, too.
I look forward to returning with a group of friends to try a bigger variety of dishes and enjoy the hilarious social interaction that always comes from fighting over tongs while grilling at your table.