2176 rue St-Catherine, Montréal, QC, 514-932-7565
It's not an exaggeration to say Korean barbecue is my favorite thing in the world. I have been absolutely obsessive about the grill-it-yourself meat meal since I was a small child. My license plate says 'BULGOGI' — the word for my favorite, thinly sliced, marinated beef.
My life changed for the better a couple of years ago when I discovered the subculture of all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue (AYCEKBBQ) in Los Angeles. Until this weekend, I had yet to find a satisfying Korean barbecue experience in Montréal, let alone an all-you-can-eat version that kicked ass. Then I came across 5000 Ans.
The name of the restaurant refers to the Korean creation myth, in which Dangun Wanggeom asked his heavenly grandfather, Hwanin, to grant him rule over the Asian peninsula. That was roughly 5000 years ago. I would not be surprised if Hwanin had a celestial glimmer in his eye when he pointed me down St-Catherine on Sunday.
For $21 Canadian and change, I was treated to a feast.
The meal began with umami miso soup, then moved along to a salad of baby greens topped with a light and slightly sweet sesame dressing. It reminded me somewhat of a bulgogi marinade, which augured well for what was to come.
Most Korean places overload the table with banchan, little dishes of pickles and veggies. My plate has been piled with everything from sesame bean sprouts to cold fish and once, a supremely creamy potato salad. No matter what, there's always too much, and I feel guilty not eating it all. 5000 Ans provided a nicely abbreviated alternative with only paper-thin slices of pinkish pickled daikon and kimchee. The kimchee tasted sparklingly fresh — all wrong for a dish that is traditionally long fermented. Nonetheless, it was delicious — frankly more to my taste than usual — with just the right balance of savory and spicy flavors.
Then it was time: Our waitress brought a burner to our wooden picnic table. It was covered in a large, flat griddle, quite different than the domed, helmet-like cooking surface I'm used to. We were presented with a tray of four meats: pork, chicken, beef short ribs and thinly sliced beef, most likely sirloin.
What was advertised as plain old pork was actually tender belly, a common KBBQ feature. Here it was sliced bacon-thin. There was a lot of it, and it didn't have tons of personality, so when I ordered seconds of all the other meats, I skipped the pork. Bright red, sweet-and-spicy chicken was cut into chunks. Since it was more thickly cut than most KBBQ meat, it was easy to cook it to optimal juiciness. The thinly sliced beef was not bulgogi-marinated as it almost always is. This worried me at first. However, the meat itself was so flavorful that it didn't matter, especially when it was dipped in any of the three available sauces. It was impossible to choose a favorite among an orange-y spicy bean paste, a sweet-hot sauce called gochujang, and a thin sesame and soy dip, as each was so great.
The short ribs, or galbi, were gloriously steeped, per tradition, in a gingery soy-based marinade. Pear is often used as a sweetener and tenderizer in the mix, and I believe that was the case here. Each bone-in slab melted in my mouth, in hot, meaty ecstasy. The meal ended with cool and mild scoops of green tea ice cream, but it was the caramelized fat of the galbi, fresh from the griddle, that truly conjured the fire and brimstone of creation 5000 years ago.