Hieu Huynh is a writer producer at CNN On-Air Promotions. She is based in Atlanta, Georgia.
I could have taken the easy way out and made reservations for a nice Italian dinner, or even Japanese teppanyaki for a safe, fun entertaining evening. But this was no ordinary group - these were co-workers.
All week, I fretted about whether or not they would enjoy it; I wanted them to have a food experience they'd never forget.
When Judgment Day finally arrived, we met at one of Los Angeles' top destinations for All-You-Can-Eat (AYCE) Korean barbecue, Tahoe Galbi, located in Koreatown.
Welcome to the world of Korean barbecue, where the cooking rests in your hands.
“Meats should have a nice crust on the outside, and still be tender and juicy on the inside,” I said while turning over a slice on the grill right in the middle of the table.
“What is this cut of meat?” another slightly more cautious co-worker asked.
“That’s galbi, the Korean version of spare ribs,” I replied.
The tantalizing smell of the marinade came alive as the heat intensified the garlic, chilies and numerous secret ingredients.
The meat can be eaten straight off the grill, but the more traditional way is to wrap it in lettuce along with a smear of fermented bean paste.
Alongside the meat come intricate side dishes, known as banchan. Ranging from thinly sliced radishes to kimchi and even potato salad, these small plates can either help subdue the spice, or amp it up.
"Fish cakes?" one co-worker asked as she suspiciously eyed what looked like cardboard slices and scrunched her nose.
"Just try it!" I coaxed.
She closed her eyes expecting the thin drab colored pieces to taste exactly as dull as they sounded. Instead, her eyes popped open with a surprised look: "Wow, this actually tastes pretty good!"
I nodded with a knowing smile, and in my best Zen master voice advised, "Don't question, just taste."
From Korean classics such as bulgogi - thin strips of marinated beef in a slightly sweet sauce - and decadent pork belly, plate after plate of fresh meat arrived ready for the grill.
Amid the shots of soju and bottles of Hite beer, I learned more about my co-workers in that one evening than I had ever learned about them sitting in a department meeting.
As another piece of meat hit the grill with a sizzle, I knew I had won them over.
There's something to be said about the universal glee of an open pit. From the Brazilian churrasco to the charcoal grill in your neighbor's backyard, there's no denying the unmistakable allure of barbecue.
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