KevinGrills: the new Tomukun Korean BBQ in Ann Arbor
Although he has previously written posts, I realized I never properly introduced Kevin. A true foodie if there ever was one, this is the guy who plans out NYC and Chicago trips meal by meal. He’s also quite the culinary enthusiast, having hot-pot parties and one time cooking the most delicious, moist, succulent suckling pig I’ve ever had. Plus, he’s so damn witty (see post below or previous posts here and here). He follows the Ann Arbor food scene quite closely, and because it was from him that I originally heard about Tomukun Korean BBQ many months ago, it was only fitting to have him write the review for it.
“Urgghhh…ah…” was the sound that permeated the car ride back from our meal at the newly opened Tomukun Korean Barbeque. The rumbling of the car’s engine mirrored the rumbling from the majority of its thoroughly meat-wasted passengers.
- Appropriately laid waste, devastated, ravaged, or ruined by consumption of meat.
- A state of intoxified impairment (from meat).
While the casual eater may view the debilitated state of our party after a visit to Tomukun’s new Korean BBQ venture as a dining red flag, true foodie hedonists will recognize it for what it is: high praise.
The first thing you notice when you walk in is that the restaurant is loud. And I don’t mean just “lively” loud, I mean “lean-in-close-to-the-hostess-just-so-she-can-hear-your-name-and-party-number-hey-this-is-kind-of-intimate-oh-WHOOPS-guess-we’re-lovers-now” loud. The interior has a modern urban feel, with primary tones of steel and concrete that reflects and amplifies sound. The requisite air hoods at the tops of the high ceilings are broken up by steel versions of hanging paper lanterns, with inscribed Korean mantras illuminated on the side that one can only assume lead to the unlocking of the secrets of meat. The second thing you notice is the wait to get a table. We went before 7pm during the middle of the week, yet still overheard a hopeful diner be told that his wait was going to be at least 90 minutes. Luckily, they do take reservations for tables of 6 or more. If you want to do a walk-in, your best bets will be to arrive before 5pm or after 9pm.
The drink menu seems nearly unchanged from the parent Tomukun noodle restaurant. We tried the mango-flavored soju, which was quite fresh and smooth. The meal started off with the complimentary banchan and we ordered the seafood pancake and japchae (sweet potato noodles). Both portions were quite generous, and were easily enough for our party of six hungry diners. The seafood pancake is a direct transplant off of the old Tomukun’s menu, and while I have never been a fan of their seafood pancake, others in our party seemed to really enjoy it. The japchae was good, but teetered on the edge of being cloyingly sweet. The star for me, however, was the kimchi. It’s made in-house and was so good that it may just be the best kimchi I’ve tasted at a Korean restaurant in Ann Arbor.
For readers not familiar with the concept of KBBQ, diners sit at a table with a grill in the center. Different cuts of meat are ordered, servers bring out the grill top and grease it up, and the whole party cooks up their meat on the grill and consumes it piping hot. It’s supposed to be a loud communal event where the more people the merrier, preferably accompanied with copious amounts of alcohol to whet the appetite. And importantly, the process is not designed to be fast…so don’t expect to be in and out in an hour.
We ordered the BBQ Combo Platter #2, a mixt of beef brisket, marinated sirloin, galbi (short ribs), spicy gochujang pork, spicy chicken, and two thick slabs of pork belly. It comes with what I can only guess is a daily rotation of fresh vegetables to be added to the grill, but these are clearly an afterthought to the star of the show: THE MEAT. Our party’s undisputed consensus was that the marinated meat options (specifically the spicy pork, chicken, and galbi) were vastly superior to the un-marinated ones. Tomukun KBBQ gave us three varieties of dipping sauce to accompany our meat smorgasbord: sesame oil, miso-sesame paste, and a sriracha-based one. The combo says it feeds 4-6 people, and as someone who is generally skeptical of restaurants’ estimation abilities when it comes to customers’ stomach sizes, I was pleasantly surprised to find that all six of us were stuffed. What Tomukun didn’t have, though, were the leaves of Bibb lettuce that are ubiquitous at other KBBQ restaurants used to wrap up the freshly-grilled meat with a bit of rice.
The sky’s the limit for Tomukun Korean Barbeque. It has the right combination of prime location, quality, and affordability to maintain the astronomical popularity it’s sustained for the past week. Once you put in the effort to secure a table, there should be nothing to stop you and Tomukun KBBQ from making a sweet, sweet food baby.