Restaurant Review: Gyu-Kaku
A meal at this Japanese steakhouse in Clarendon is a theatrical experience.
The Samurai spread includes one foil packet each of corn and asparagus; cubes of filet mignon; chicken thigh in a soy-garlic marinade; a pan of raw shrimp and mushrooms that cook in garlic butter atop your grill; and thin slices of various cuts of beef (sirloin, skirt steak, hanger steak, strip steak, short rib) tenderized in assorted marinades, such as ginger-soy, garlic-sesame or miso-soy.
Is this earth-shattering food? No. Does it matter all that much? No. Look around—everyone’s enjoying themselves. The dining room, which seats 130, plus seven at the bar, is a happy (if not a tad dark) place marked by blond wood accents and booths upholstered in chrysanthemum-patterned fabric. The grilling is quite entertaining and many of the meats are flavorful, thanks to their marinade’s high sugar content, which is essential for achieving that almighty char and caramelization.
I should note that my favorite items to grill were from the a la carte section of the menu: rich and bold unmarinated slices of beef tongue, and strips of sesame marinated pork belly.
For dessert, s’mores come with all of the prix-fixe meals, which makes sense because you can roast the marshmallows above the grill. The dazzler, though, is a delectable, pale green, 20-layer crepe cake filled with matcha (green tea) pastry cream. I’m told it’s imported from Lady M, an international cake boutique.
As I ask for the check on my last visit, a gaggle of servers parades toward a booth of teenage girls, wielding a paper crown, a large sign emblazoned with “Happy Birthday!” and a dessert with a giant erupting sparkler. The servers burst into song, the girls clap and laugh, and John Mayer croons “Your Body Is a Wonderland” through the restaurant’s speakers.
What to Drink
Gyu-Kaku has a full-service bar with a specialty cocktail list of very sweet and colorful libations, such as the Hawaiian Smash (rum, Blue Curacao, Coco Lopez, pineapple juice, lime); the Tokyo Sunset (vodka, peach schnapps, grenadine and mango purée); and a Lychee-Tini (vodka, lychee sake, plum wine, lychee purée).
I recommend sake with your meal, be it a Kurosawa Junmai (full-bodied, fairly acidic, mid-range sweetness), Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai (light and dry, slightly sweet), Kikusui Junmai Ginjo (crisp, bright, dry), or Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo (floral).
Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ
1119 N. Hudson St., Arlington
Open daily: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m
Street parking is limited. Garage parking available at 3101 Wilson Blvd. ($4, closed Sundays) and at 1200 N. Garfield St. and 1205 N. Garfield St. ($5)
Appetizers: $4 to $10
Meats, per portion: $6 to $13 (recommendation is three per person)
Vegetables: $4 to $7
Desserts: $3 to $8
Prix-fixe BBQ dinners: $30 to $35 per person (includes appetizers, assorted proteins and vegetables for grilling, plus dessert)