Thanks to my friend CC, last week I was treated to a teppanyaki dinner at Gyu King on Burrard Street. I want to start by saying that this post will be rather light on food content. Why? Because teppanyaki restaurant isn’t necessarily all about the food. It’s a combination of food and experience. If anything, the experience is probably more important than food, to me anyway. And that will be addressed in the Service section.
Instead of ordering a la carte, we opted for two orders of the Superior Value Course. Each of them includes the following:
- Lobster Miso Soup
- Salmon Sashimi
- Seasonal Greens with Smoked Salmon
- Half Live Lobster
- Filet of Black Cod
- AAA Beef Tenderloin
- Thinly Sliced Ribeye (Usuyaki)
- Assorted Vegetables with Enoki Mushrooms
- Japanese Fried Rice
The reason I said food isn’t all that important is that the cooking is pretty straightforward. Other than the soup, salad and sashimi, everything is cooked on this hot teppanyaki grill, and from the looks of it, there were maybe two types of sauces to cook with – soy sauce and teriyaki. On our table there were also three dipping sauces including lemon juice, BBQ sauce and a garlic sauce.
The highlights would be the protein dishes. When the menu says Live Lobster, the skeptical me didn’t quite believe it. But how did they prove it? They served the lobster, already chopped into pieces, on a silver platter, while the lobster head was still moving!! It certainly startled the neighbouring diners at our grill station when they saw this moving lobster head. I was impressed because now I knew my lobster was fresh, and live.
The other good part was the Beef Tenderloin. Liking my meat medium rare, I actually ordered for medium just like my friend CC did. To my surprise even though the meat was pretty well cooked inside, it remained quite juicy and very tender. It’s a piece of simply-grilled, decent quality meat.
The most difficult dishes were probably the Usuyaki and Fried Rice. Usuyaki was basically thinly sliced ribeye roll with green onions and fried garlic slices. The cook needed to act quickly to avoid over-cooking the meat while rolling it nicely. A couple of our rolls were a bit too raw for my liking but overall they’re pretty good.
Same for the Fried Rice, and it’s all about the timing. The cook needed to keep stirring the rice to avoid burning it, after he mixed it into some ground beef. He then stirred in a raw egg into the fried rice. It’s pretty simple but bad timing would result in burnt rice crisps.
Honestly we didn’t know what we got ourselves into when we placed the order. If you looked at the list of items, clearly there’s a lot of food. Yet we went for it. And there was indeed quite a bit to eat. I managed to finish most of my dishes, except for a small amount of fried rice and vegetables, but was quite full afterwards. The menu cost around $50 per person; while there’s a decent amount of food, and some good quality ingredients, I wouldn’t necessarily agree it’s worth the money.
Teppanyaki is supposed to an art form. I remember watching a show called the Food Network Challenge a few years ago and teppanyaki chefs need to compete in a number of rounds in order to be crowned the winner. They had to demonstrate the basic cooking skills, creativity in their dishes, as well as the entertaining/wow factor of their cooking process. At Gyu King, or at least with my cook, I don’t think I got much out of the entertaining category. I had no one else to compare to, though, because we were seated in a party room, not in the main dining room, so I couldn’t watch other cooks in action. He did manage to set our AAA Beef Tenderloin on fire, but there wasn’t even any cling-clanging of his spatulas, or building an onion tower. He had his head down the whole time and focused on cooking. All the dishes turned out pretty good, so that’s a plus on my book. We’ll call it even.
One thing though, and it could just be the nature of teppanyaki, is that I felt rushed throughout the dinner. Our cook would cook one thing after the other, non-stop, regardless whether we had finished eating the previous dish. I’m a faster eater, so it wasn’t a big problem for me. But CC eats slowly, so she ended up with so much on her plate that they got her a second plate to hold the food. Towards the end, her dishes got kinda cold and it probably didn’t taste as good as when they were hot and freshly cooked. Why would they want to compromise the quality of dishes by rushing to get everything cooked as fast as possible? Perhaps they don’t care.
Also, each teppanyaki station can serve up to 8-10 people at a time. So if yours is a small dinner party, you may be seated with other people and the cook would just stagger the cooking to serve you all. When we first arrived, there were already four people at our station, halfway through their dinner. Because we took our time to place an order, the cook was able to finish cooking all of their dishes before serving us. We basically got the cook all to ourselves. However, after the cooking was over and we were still trying to finish our food, new customers walked in to our room and joined us around our station. After a few exchange between us and the new walk-ins, the cook started cooking again and the cycle continued.
It’s a pretty fun experience to dine at a teppanyaki restaurant. It’s definitely not your everyday dinner location, but it would be a good option for special occasions such as birthday parties. However be prepared to be seated next to some strangers and may require to make some new friends at the dinner table. After all, it’s all part of the experience!
Gyu Japanese Teppanyaki
755 Burrard Street, Vancouver