Where's the beef?

By MC SLIM JB  |  June 4, 2008
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Bulgogi at Koreana

Koreana
154–158 Prospect Street, Cambridge | koreanaboston.com | 617.576.8661
I have friends who are averse to Korean food, and I know how they got that way: an unchaperoned encounter with a bowl of kimchi. Few Westerners take readily to the ubiquitous chili-laden condiment/side dish of fermented napa cabbage. One way to avoid this is to introduce neophytes to Korean cuisine at a restaurant that offers “Korean barbecue,” tableside grilling of marinated meats and seafood. It also affords one of the great ways to enjoy steak for short money.

Besides tables with inset gas grills, Koreana has attractions not seen in many Boston-area Korean restaurants: an airy space with lots of windows, attractive modern furnishings, and a full bar with big TVs. The atmosphere won’t wow jaded travelers who’ve dined in Seoul or Los Angeles’s Koreatown — the spaciousness and light quickly belie that kind of authenticity — but first-time visitors will be heartened by the sight of non-Koreans tending their own grills. Start with steak: an order of bulgogi ($18.95), thin-sliced ribeye in a sweet and garlicky marinade. The server will load the grill for you; your job is to tend to those slices, cook them to your liking, and wrap each in a leaf of red lettuce with a dollop of soybean-paste condiment and bits of the half-dozen accompanying banchan (small side dishes). Banchan are a little mysterious at first — blistering kimchi, sweet pickled daikon, sesame-dressed bean sprouts, rubbery fish-cake slices, briny chopped sea vegetables, spicy pickled cucumber — but you’ll warm to most of them. They not only add variety and crunch, but are replenished endlessly on request. Buttressed by a pot of rice, you will likely leave stuffed.

There’s a minimum of two barbecue orders at the grill tables, so don’t skip galbi (short ribs, $19.95), considered by many a better cut than ribeye in this context. Your server will wield poultry shears to cut the long ribbons of meat into bite-size pieces. Or go the Korean surf-and-turf route with a plate of shrimp ($18.95) to grill and dip in a thin teriyaki sauce. Between the heat, salty marinades, and excitement at your newfound mastery of table grilling, you ought to order something soothing, like an oilcan of mellow Sapporo lager ($6.95), a pot of no-name sake ($19.95), or a bottle of 48-proof Jinro soju ($15.95), a Korean white lightning that gets smoother as the night rolls on. After all, nothing cushions the jarring novelty of an unfamiliar cuisine like steak and alcohol.

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Carne Asada at Angela's Café

Angela’s Café
131 Lexington Street, East Boston | 617.567.4972
If you’re a steak lover too discriminating for national chains like Outback but lacking an expense account, you have a problem. Most steak houses below the luxury tier serve commodity choice-grade beef, the kind of steak you can buy at the supermarket and grill in your backyard. If you can’t afford prime-grade, independently produced boutique beef, what’s the point of ordering steak at a less-expensive restaurant? Not much, in my book, if all that comes with it are shopworn sides like baked potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. If I’m going for an unadorned choice-grade steak, I prefer a chef who can dress up my meal with beautiful appetizers and sides I can’t reproduce at home.

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