Baekjeong, a name deeply rooted in Korean culture and originally referred to ‘butchers,’ is a term that once held a negative social stigma. However, in today’s culinary landscape, it has found new meaning and appreciation, and is a testament to their unwavering dedication to serving the finest meats while providing a truly exceptional Korean cultural dining experience.
This commitment shines through in every aspect of the Baekjeong restaurant, from the innovative grills to the rich and authentic flavors.
Stepping into the limelight as the seventh addition to their California portfolio, Baekjeong has set up shop at the Valley Fair Mall, becoming their ninth location in the United States as of August 16th.
The word of their opening has spread like wildfire, and it’s no surprise that Baekjeong is almost fully booked out for the next three months. Locals, food enthusiasts and barbecue aficionados alike are clamoring for a chance to savor the exquisite dishes and immersive dining experience that has already made them one of the biggest names in the world of Korean Barbeque.
Knowing the odds I was up against, I decided to take a gamble one Monday evening shortly after their grand opening, but alas, Lady Luck was not on my side (or so I thought) seeing as tables were a rare commodity. Unfazed by the challenge, I decided to take the last two seats available at the bar. Little did I know that this choice would lead to an evening that would unravel into an almost surreal experience.
Before I tell this tale, let me set the stage. Picture this: You approach the restaurant, perched on the second floor of the newly renovated open-air section of the mall. Its facade resembles a jade sculpture between King’s Fish House and Maestros. Once inside, you ascend a staircase where a towering wall of what appears to be an intricate mosaic of spice cabinets and drawers greets you. At the top of the stairs, you enter a vibrant lobby area. Behind it is the lively bar, and beyond that a massive dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows. It is crowded with tables and their own take on a traditional Korean Barbeque grill in the center, all the while various staff members weaving through the excitement.
My friend and I took a seat at the bar, where immediately our bartender Mauricio made us feel right at home, talking us through some of the traditional drinks and menu items that were available to the bar seats. We opted to try the ‘Cool Citron’, a refreshing soju-based concoction, and the heartier soy-infused ‘Dwaenjiang Old Fashioned’, an interesting twist on a classic cocktail.
Mauricio’s recommendations led us to the ‘Pork Belly Kimchi Stew’, a full-flavored dish, striking the perfect balance between spicy and savory. I couldn’t resist trying their ‘Fried Dumplings,’ which offered a crispy outer layer of dough, while the flavorful pork filling burst with taste and texture–served along with the pickled daikon and its harmonious blend of mild-sweet tanginess with a subtle earthy undertone.
Amidst this appetizing escapade, we mingled with an eclectic array of guests at the bar. The bar staff’s warm hospitality was matched by my brief conversation with the executive chef who shared the fascinating story of his impressive journey and experience.
I rubbed shoulders with a Korean Instagram personality, a local Casino owner out celebrating with his management team, and what seemed to be a retired sports player (though my limited sports knowledge kept our conversation mostly on food). While I reveled in this unique experience, my attention kept drifting toward the distant tables, the aroma of marinated meats cruelly teasing my senses. However, with no reservations in sight, a friendly staff member suggested my best course of action: returning when they opened and arriving early.
Following this advice, I found myself at the restaurant’s doorstep an hour before their opening time, securing the coveted first spot in line.
Stepping inside once more, this time as the first guest, I couldn’t help but savor the calm before the impending whirlwind of activity that I knew was about to unfold before my eyes. As I took my seat at the table, it became even more evident that their commitment to precision extended to every aspect, even down to the meticulous placement of the silverware while a carafe of chilled water greeted me, accompanied by a vibrant salad and a diverse selection of marinated vegetables and delectable sides.
Having premeditated my dining choices the night before, I engaged in a conversation with Andrew, my server, recounting the adventure leading up to this moment. Fortunately, his remarkable accommodation, wealth of knowledge and top-tier hospitality made my experience truly memorable. My choice fell upon the ‘Hodong’s Favorites Combo,’ an enticing selection of sliced beef brisket, boneless short rib, pork belly and marinated pork steak.
What set Baekjeong apart from other Korean Barbecue establishments I’ve visited was their attentive service. Here, the servers were not only skilled in bringing out the best flavors in the meat but also took the reins in cooking it to perfection. For someone like me, who enjoys grilling but appreciates the touch of a professional, this was a welcome surprise.
Given the combo included a stew option, I decided to try the ‘Beef Brisket Soybean Stew’, and if I had the chance, I’d gladly enjoy that soul-warming soup on every rainy day for the rest of my life. It featured tender slices of brisket bathed in a rich and savory soybean paste broth, enhanced with aromatic ingredients. At that moment, I felt like I could have died happily, but the meal had barely begun.
As Andrew skillfully prepared my Beef Brisket, he offered insightful tips and suggestions on matching sauces with various types of meat, along with inventive ways to compliment the array of sides that had been set on the table. Adorning the perimeter of the grill were two distinct channels, one brimming with a luscious blend of corn and cheese, while the other cradled a silky egg mixture that gradually transformed into a velvety, cloud-like treat.
While the other meats in the combo continued to sizzle, I experimented with the wide array of options on my table. At times, I relished the meat in its unadorned glory, while other moments found me dipping or combining it with a variety of sauces or pickled vegetables. The robust short rib, the melt-in-your-mouth pork belly and the juicy marinated pork steak could have easily led to feelings of indulgent gluttony. Yet when it comes to enjoying exceptional cuisine, my passion knows no shame.
Baekjeong isn’t just a restaurant; it’s an enchanting journey through the culinary arts, where every moment can potentially make a memory. In my two days at Baekjeong, I discovered that dining here isn’t just a meal; it’s an unforgettable experience that lingers long after the last bite. Assuming I can get a reservation, I will definitely be returning.