Looking for a way to shake up your dining experience? If so, consider Gin Korean BBQ in Fat City, where the line between kitchen and dining room blurs thanks to the tabletop grills that enable guests to experiment with ready-to-cook meats and a constellation of accompaniments that will make any meal an adventure. Gin is owned by the husband-and-wife team of Nga Vu and Shawn Tran, a Vietnamese couple who have long been interested in Korean cuisine. “We are food industry people – we travel to eat and learn, and love to bring that knowledge back home,” Vu explains. Gin, which opened in early March, is the realization of their long-held desire to offer Korean BBQ to New Orleans.

Bringing this type of restaurant to New Orleans represents a larger challenge than most, however. The equipment cost is high – the tabletop grills and downdraft ventilation require serious investment. At Gin you see it is money well spent – the modern space is trimmed out with blue accent lighting and comfortable seats and booths padded out in metallic silver upholstery. It is a large restaurant, neatly ordered, with the back wall affording a view into the kitchen.

But the real show takes place at your table. Choose from a number of meat dishes, such as Chadolbagi, thin cylinders of beef brisket, and Maeun Dak Bulgogi, spicy marinated boneless chicken.  “We bring out the side dishes and marinate and prep all the meat,” Vu says. “All you have to do is cook it to perfection.”

The quality of the meat and accompaniments set Gin apart. Many of the marinades involve a three-day process, and all the meats are first butchered then prepped in-house. No MSG is employed, and the natural enzymes in fruit and citrus used in the marinades tenderize the meat, rather than commercial powders.

Once the grill is ready, grab the provided tongs and the fun begins. For non-marinated meats, pass the finished bits through the triumvirate of green-tea infused salt and pepper, sesame oil and ponzu sauce. Wrap it up in a lettuce leaf with a bit of rice and any one of the house-made kimchi that accompany the meal. “Cabbage is the most popular,” Vu says. “The daikon and carrot kimchi has more of a pickled flavor, a little sour and a little sweet.” Meals unfold on a completely different timeline than the typical three-course event. “This is a social dining experience,” Vu explains.” You don’t cook it all at once, you let it play out. Bring your friends, talk about what happened at work and celebrate a promotion. We are not here trying to turn tables – these meals can take a while and that is just part of the experience.”

Outside of the BBQ grill selections, popular appetizers include Spicy Fried Chicken Wings, Hamul Pajeon (a seafood-and-green onion studded pancake) and the traditional Korean favorite Japchae, which uses clear noodles made from sweet potato starch.
For drinks, a full bar menu is available, but consider pairing your meal with Soju, a distilled spirit akin to vodka but with a lower alcohol content. They sell Chamisul, a top Korean brand, and it is also available in a variety of flavors, including mango and lychee. Generous off-street parking is provided, but come early as once it fills up street parking in Fat City is hard to come by. •

Table Talk: Cooking Korean

Nga Vu and Shawn Tran are culinary veterans. They own and operate Crystal Palace, a catering and event space with locations in Harvey and New Orleans East. The demands of such work have given them a remarkable breadth of cooking styles to accommodate the requests of their clients. “Vietnamese, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Hispanic and American – we do it all,” Vu says. Having Gin as part of their portfolio now is a win-win for both owners and staff. “Gin helps give our staff more regular hours, which they like and makes things steadier for them.”

And Little Korea BBQ

Little Korea BBQ in the Lower Garden District offers a similar experience Uptown. Here grilling takes place atop an open flame (rather than the griddle-like stations at Gin). Recommended dishes here include the beef bulgogi and the la galbi – marinated beef short rib. The Kim Chi Pancakes are a good appetizer as well.

Gin Korean BBQ, 3012 N Arnoult Rd., Fat City; 309-7007. L, D Daily; Ginkoreanbbq.com