Restaurant review: Gogi Korean BBQ

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

The bulgogi I devoured recently was among the best I've had in a Columbus restaurant, and not solely because I cooked it myself.

An addictive Korean classic of tender, grilled beef strips, bulgogi derives from the Korean words for "fire," which is "bul," and "meat," which is "gogi." Capitalize "Gogi," and you have the title of the eatery I just referenced.

Assuming the emphatically rehabbed San-Su space on Bethel Road in May, Gogi earns its name legitimately: All tables in this terrific Korean barbecue operation are equipped with an inset grill on which customers quickly sear an assortment of meats.

Other attributes of the big, open establishment include handsome wood, corrugated aluminum and illuminated green bottles. When the joint is jumping - which is often - the sound of diners socializing and sizzling proteins combined with kinetic, Korean pop-music videos playing on large TVs might remind some of a gaming arcade. So if you're looking for a quiet dinner, Gogi isn't the answer.

But if you're adventurous and looking for bold and delicious food in a trendy eatery where every meal is a party, you've come to the right place.

Gogi is the right place for Korean booze, too. A great way to get your party started is with the chilled Korean Sampler ($13), six engaging shots that range from grapefruit-flavored makgeolli (a cloudy fermented rice beverage) to black raspberry bokbunja-ju (fruit wine) to a bracing slug of straight soju (vodka-like rice liquor). Several cuisine-appropriate Korean beers such as American-style Cass and maltier OB Lager are offered in 22-ounce bottles ($7.50).

Gogi's photo-filled menu comprises several sections, but I suggest you head to the Korean barbecue pages. The dynamic meals depicted come with a panoply of endlessly refillable side dishes called banchan, so you needn't order anything more.

I also recommend gigantic Combo C ($50). This order has the advantage of being an outrageous feast for two-to-four peopleand presenting its raw meats - bulgogi, beef short ribs, pork ribs - in flavorful, pre-marinated fashion (somewhat teriyaki-style). Before proceeding, I advise viewing the informative four-minute-long video about Korean barbecue on Gogi's Facebook page. Another Gogi dining aid: Tableside devices that summon servers or the bill.

When the enormous Combo C platter arrives, following the video's advice, you'll first place the onions and enoki mushrooms on the grill while snacking on steamed rice and nine small plates of pickled, sweet, fiery and funky, mostly veggie-based banchan. These might include various kimchis, fermented sesame leaves, bean sprouts, daikon, potatoes, greens and fishcakes. You'll also receive delicious bean-paste soup (think Korean minestrone) and a volcanically hot, fluffy "steamed egg."

Don't crowd the grill and sear meats only a couple minutes per side. Do this in rounds, pushing the service button to have your grate replaced after each round.

The paper-thin bulgogi cooks in seconds, and its lean, garlic-scented, sweet-and-savory flavor is outstanding. Ditto for the thick, meaty and tender beef short ribs. You'll need to gnaw on bones to eat the fattier pork ribs, but they're wonderful, too. Enjoy all three with the provided vinegary scallion salad - or wrapped into lettuce leaf "tacos" upon request.

Don't feel like cooking? Gogi makes killer Soon Tofu ($12), a gurgling hot-and-spicy vegetable stew with kimchi, soft tofu and a chosen protein (pork bulgogi works great). And its first-rate Dolsot Bibimbap ($13 to $16) - lively, egg-topped, sizzling rice dish loaded with veggies and flavor - can be ordered with an uncommon variety of proteins that include seafood, chicken or short ribs. Although I loved the taste and crispiness of the frittata-like Seafood Pancake ($12), it was excessively oily.

There's much more to explore on Gogi's large menu, and I can't wait.

Gogi Korean BBQ

1138 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side