Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cooking up Korean at Grandma's Korean BBQ

Grandma's Korean BBQ is probably the closest I'll ever get to having a Korean grandmother that showers me with attention in the form of homemade spicy Kimchee and Pork Bul-gool-gi. But upon arriving at this East Montview eatery, even though Grandma is full of smiles and aims to please, I realized it was not to be. I went the first time with my loosely defined Asian Crew. Out of all of us present that night (representing five distinct nationalities), Grandma immediately honed in on the Korean among us, and basically offered to cook him anything he liked--even if it wasn't on the menu. I'm not one to be jealous, nor am I in anyway lacking, because I actually have a Filipina grandmother and a team of aunts who did the same for me when I was growing up, but still it would be nice. (OK, maybe I am a little jealous because my friend Carlos has a pair of adopted grandparents over at Lao Wang's as well and I'm starting to feel a little left out.)

Grandma is the former owner of Seoul Food on 6th Ave and Washington. When she sold it seven years ago, she tried retiring from the restaurant world, but after a few years of travelling, she decided to get back into it by re-locating herself to a storefront on East Montview near Nome in Aurora. Of course the location certainly has caused her business to suffer, but she seems happy and free in her new space, and continues to take meticulous care for her ingredients and her cooking, making everything from scratch just like, well, Grandma would do it.

It is also a place for her to proudly display her collectibles, which among other more kitschy and grandmotherly items include an extensive collection of "Vintage Stock Certificates".

The certificates are also scanned and organized on her website,, along with instructions on how to make a Korean fighter kite. The website is run by the friendly Grandpa, who spends his free time (which he admits to have more of now that they have moved shop to Aurora) teaching himself code and staying up-to-date on all the latest web technology. And though humble, he also knows what a cool domain name he swiped when he got

But back to the restaurant. It's not exactly Korean BBQ like you might think of it--despite the large lettering on the awning out front--as there are no grills on the table, and everything comes out cooked. The website refers to Grandma and her Korean Grill, which seems a more apt description.

One night we started with the pan-fried vegetable-and-beef dumplings that were good but a little underwhelming. It whetted the appetite, but it's not something I would consider travelling to Aurora to eat.

The mediocrity ended there, however, when out came the seafood pancake, or pajeon, made with calamari, shrimp, crab meat and vegetables. Held together by a fluffy, eggy batter, it was delicious.

Then came the out-pouring of Banchan, or the infamous and plentiful traditional Korean side-dishes. Among it was one of the better kimchees I've had in Denver, even getting the nod from our Korean friend, as "Korean spicy". In fact almost all of it was spicy -- runny-nose-sweat-on-the-nape-of-the-neck spicy -- and excellent. I learned on a later visit that Grandma goes to Pueblo to pick her own chiles, which she dries herself, grind into powder and uses for her potent dishes.

Both the pork and beef bool-go-gi were excellent, though the pork gets the nod as the better of the two. Served with grilled zucchini on a sizzling platter, the meat was succulent, well-flavored and tender--as it should be, as one night we left to the loud banging sounds of Grandpa tenderizing a fresh batch.

Another favorite of mine was the simple miso soup. My wife and I had it twice as a side dish and both times thought that it stole the show with its subtle, yet rich and complex, flavor. Grandma starts all her broths and soups from a homemade stock that she makes with seaweed, anchovies and onion. The miso is finished with the standard tofu, green onions and bits of seaweed, and is one of the better miso soups I've had in a long time.

The kimchee fried rice was also excellent, mostly because the kimchee is so good here. Add it to fried rice and vegetables and it becomes even better--though it was a little oily.

One of the best main plates I had with the Asian crew was a grilled fish. I think we ended up with tilapia, though my memory is hazy on this point. Whatever the case it was a simple spice-rubbed fish served over a bed of fried rice that immediately transported everyone at the table back to Asia--the way that aromas, flavors and lovingly cooked meals can bring to life otherwise forgotten nostalgic moments of the past. "This tastes like Asia," one of us blurted out when she took a bite.

Another night, when my wife and I were the sole diners, I did get my moment of Grandmotherly attention, even if it was brief. Grandma came out to check on us (as she does for all her customers), and when she saw that my bowl of ramen was a little low on broth, she brought me some extra broth because she was worried that I would run out. She motioned with her hands for me to eat more, and was smiling from ear-to-ear. I smiled back, basking in my fleeting moment of grandmotherly doting. The ramen was good as well, and although advertised as vegetable ramen, it came out loaded with mussels and shrimp which was a bonus. 

Throwing in a handful of seafood on a $6 ramen is a screaming deal, and Grandma's Korean BBQ is full of value from top-to-bottom. The night we went as large party we were astonished when the check came out to a measly $68 for eight people. It may have been the first time in the history of the group check that every single person overpaid. We left it all anyway as a generous tip, not only for the friendly, efficient service, but because we want this place to be around in a few months when we all decide to come back together. Grandma's is worth the trip out to Aurora any time for the prices alone. Throw on top of the doting service and made-from-scratch Korean meals from Grandma herself and it becomes a regular on my East Aurora circuit.

Grandma's Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon

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