Gyenari offers traditional Korean barbecue as well as fusion starters in a modern, spacious setting befitting its Culver City location on restaurant row.
This reviewer popped in without a reservation for dinner with two guests, and only had to wait about 10-15 minutes before being shown to a table. Dim light and mild chatter emanated from within the large, high ceilinged space, and we were happy enough to sit on the wooden benches outside to order drinks.
Unfortunately, the watered down martinis wiped the smiles off our faces: one of the Fuji Apple martinis was not even remotely potable, and the version that reappeared within a matter of minutes after being sent back was simply laden with more juice instead of sake as it should have been. Tad irritating, I’m sure you’ll agree, at $9. Their specialty drinks sounded enticing – Cucumber Gingerita, Mango Mojito, and Watermelon Soju Spritzer for instance – but we couldn’t bring ourselves to bother after the martini fiasco.
In we go. Almost immediately, the dim light seems too dim, and the mild chatter goes up several decibels. It is completely appropriate for the lounge that the restaurant contains, but just a little off base for the dinner customers. Still, hunger and curiosity propels this reviewer forward.
The dinner menu is divided into starters, authentic BBQ, sides and prix-fixe options. We ordered the grilled prawns, spicy pork bulgogi, spicy Seoul chicken and a simple green salad (on request, not on the menu), all to share between three people. We were informed that while some banchan did come with the authentic BBQ items, regular cabbage kimchi did not. As a result, an extra order of kimchi was placed (also on request, not on the menu).
The prawns, though massive in size and tempting to the eyes, weren’t terribly tasty. Happily, however, the bulgogi and spicy chicken (both about $20-25 per order) were delicious and brought out in substantial quantities. The marinades were just right. We licked our chops and polished them off post haste. The salad, literally, greens with a vinaigrette as requested, went down well too.
Presentation is elegant and appealing, very compatible with the upscale atmosphere Gyenari is shooting for. The servers (well, ours, anyway), are garrulous and cheerful. A bone to pick (a large one at that): it turns out that kimchi does come with the bulgogi, a fact the server could have easily pointed out when we ordered. See my previous Examiner piece detailing thoughts on Bruce Buschel’s What Not To Do If You Are A Restaurant Staffer.
All in all, given the fine meat, a second visit would not be completely off the chart for this reviewer, but I’d risk the smoke and smells of a less chic spot before going back too soon.
Gyenari is an interesting addition to the herd of delicious Korean barbecue spots in the Los Angeles urban sprawl with its comely decor and upscale feel. Just don’t order any martinis and check with the servers lest you end up double-ordering. Be wary of ordering the starters which may disappoint, and lastly, bring your loud voice and an appropriate mood to face the noise level you could encounter.
Street parking is available but be prepared to walk a couple of blocks.
9540 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232-2631
Telephone: 310 838 3131
Hours: Monday-Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday – Thursday 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday – Saturday 4 p.m. – 11 p.m.
RATING: 3 OUT OF FIVE BIBIMBAPS (WOULD BE LOWER IF NOT FOR THE BBQ OFFERINGS)