Noodle Town4647 Convoy St.Kearny Mesa 858-565-0403
When one of my oldest friends told me he was back to eating meat after being a vegetarian for most of the time we've known each other, I almost shed a little tear of joy. It's not that his lifestyle ever affected our friendship, but seeing as I'm all about discovering new food, I felt like there were so many things we couldn't properly share. He'd always been a good sport when he joined us on restaurant excursions, but the vegetarian option he'd get stuck with would frequently be a pasta dish made up of kitchen leftovers or something similarly dull. He'd fare better at ethnic places, but even then, he'd be left out as everyone else traded bites of our tasty meat selections.
So, naturally, this momentous announcement meant we had to hop over to the nearest taco shop so I could witness him eating some carne asada, and darn it if he didn't look more blissfully content than I'd seen him in a while. I then set about planning our Summer Meat Tour of '08, including a stop at The Linkery for a plate of grilled green beans boosted by their seriously transcendent house-made ham. My friend expressed a newfound love for pork, which he hadn't had much of back when he was still eating meat. I was truly moved.
A reversion back to the carnivore world should be heralded with a primal meat-meets-heat meal, when the sizzle and smell of browning meat reminds you of why the stuff is so damn hard to resist. I considered a DIY dinner at the Turf Club, but since my friend had already inaugurated his return to meat-dom with a steak, we went for Korean barbeque instead. Noodle Town on Convoy makes noodles, both cold and hot, but their particular lure is their barbecue-only side room and patio, filled with round tables that each hold a fixed center grill. You can barbecue in the main restaurant, too, on portable tabletop grills, but the metal barbecue tables are really where the fun's at.
A group of us gathered around a table, ordered some beer and soju (Korea's version of sake) and commenced with the feast. We got some nice glass noodles called chapchae, a savory seafood pancake and a few dumplings that were OK but were there just to snack on while we waited for our grill to hit the right temperature.
There are lots of cuts of meat—from pork belly to beef tongue, tripe and brisket, but we chose the marinated skirt steak, my favorite quick-cooking beef, and also decided to try some pork jowl, a well-marbeled section from the head of the pig.
When the grill was good and screaming hot, our server brought out the trays of meat, along with a pair of tongs and a piece of pork fat to render on the grill and lubricate the cooking surface. She also brought panchan, tiny dishes that include steamed broccoli, crunchy pickled turnips and spicy kimchi.
We started searing the meat on the grill and soon the air was filled with sweet-salty smoke. There's an overhead ventilation system that sucks up most of the meaty haze, but the barbecue aroma will still seep into your clothes—something I don't mind at all.
Both meats grilled up in an instant and we popped the juicy bits into our mouths as fast as we could cook them; the beef is leaner than the pork, but both were tender and very moist. We each had a three-sectioned tray of dipping sauces in front of us—a hot sauce, a salt-and-pepper-seasoned sesame oil and a soy-based sauce with sliced chilies. I gave each a try but decided that I prefer the meat straight off the grill. Onions, sliced jalapeños and garlic cloves are also included—to char and eat with the meat—which is highly recommended. While everyone finished up the last round of meat, I scooted over a stone bowl filled with savory steamed egg custard and ended the meal with its smooth, warm comfort.
One member of our group so loved the cooking experience that he's trying to find an online source for the barbecue tables so he can have one for his backyard. I'm just happy that my formerly vegetarian friend is finally able sample everything on the table. I'll appreciate him no matter what, but if he decides to stick with being a carnivore, I'll continue to be his guide.