Who could resist the multiple sensory pleasures of Korean barbecue: the spicy, salty flavors and the combination of textures and temperatures (crisp lettuce juxtaposed with succulent grilled meat and fish), not to mention the hands-on fun of going through a pile of lettuce leaves, wrapping your own individual little barbecue "sandwiches" and popping them into your mouth. And then there's the fear factor of watching an iron basket of fiery charcoal travel from kitchen to table. Just close your eyes and pray, "Please don't let the busboy slip on that errant piece of kimchi and doom us all."
At a recent dinner at Shin Chon Kalbi (43-01 Queens Boulevard) in Sunnyside, Queens, not only did we enjoy a wonderful meal of grilled short ribs and pork and a steaming bowl of bibimbap, but we were also treated to an unsolicited, though thoroughly elucidating, seminar from our waitress on how to properly eat Korean barbecue.
"I see a lot of people who don't know what they're doing," our waitress told us, rolling her eyes. Clearly bothered by the dining transgressions she sees day in and day out, she proceeded to educate us on a few Korean barbecue dos and don'ts.
DO tear off a small piece of lettuce ("face up," with the bottom of the rib facing down) to wrap around the freshly grilled meat and make a bite-size sandwich.
DON'T grab an entire leaf of lettuce to form a Chipotle-caliber Korean burrito.
DO taste the complimentary assortment of banchan, small plates of kimchi, pickled vegetables, and other side dishes typically brought to the table just after ordering.
DON'T try to stuff the banchan into your barbecue/lettuce sandwich. Leave them as side dishes to savor on their own. In other words, keep the sandwich simple: lettuce, meat, bean paste, shredded scallion or leek, and garlic (see below).
DO eat the garlic, often served in a small bowl with sliced green chiles. First, roast the garlic atop the grill, and then add a slice to your barbecue sandwich, if you are so inclined.
DON'T eat the garlic raw. Our waitress commented, without explanation, that garlic is considered by Koreans to be more healthy when it has been cooked. It also tastes better grilled, not to mention the fact that you will be doing your significant other a favor by avoiding raw garlic.