December 18, 2006

For the first time

"Minor things can become moments of great revelation when encountered for the first time" -Margot Fonteyn

There's something magical about 'firsts'. First words. First steps. First kisses. First tastes of something brand new.

John and I are ten years and many wonderful memories past our first kiss. And not ready to dive into the commitment required for first words or steps -- except perhaps vicariously through our nieces and nephews. So -- especially given our shared passion for food -- we rarely pass up the opportunity to share a first taste.

Enter Chris. At eighteen, he thinks he might want to be a chef someday. But not a pastry chef because in his estimation pastry chefs don't get women. Okay, so he's got a lot to learn...

But that's another story for another post. A typical teenager, Chris loves meat. But he's cautious about anything he perceives as ethnic food -- Asia and South America reside of different planets in Chris' culinary universe.

John and I are on a mission to change that. And what better way to introduce a teenage carnivore to the many flavors of Asia than a field trip for Korean Barbecue, a cuisine whose cornerstone Ruth Reichl has described as "Bulgoki... the barbecued beef of the Far East"?

So Saturday morning, we loaded up the cars and caravanned south for The Palace Korean Barbecue Buffet in Sunnyvale. On arrival, the hostess surveyed our party for several seconds, clearly not sure what to make of us: Nine Caucasians -- four adults, two teenage boys two giggly adolescent girls and a fifth teenager, quieter and more mature than the others. Clearly not their average Saturday afternoon clientele. As she seated us at two tables toward the back of the restaurant, I suspect she had reservations about leaving the young people alone with open flame. Hmmm. Perhaps before we introduced Chris and Company to the concept of Korean BBQ, we should have reviewed the rules?

In the end, they did just fine. As we were seated and the waitress fired up the tabletop grills, John explained the premise: Three "buffet" lines. One for the raw meat you'd bring back to your table and cook. Sweet & salty bulgogi. Rich & succulent kalbi, or short ribs. Teriyaki chicken. Spicy pork loin. Marinated calamari. For the more adventurous: chicken gizzards, tripe, tongue, pork belly, and baby octopus. A second buffet line for the Korean side dishes (and a couple of buffet-style Banchan) - spicy kimchi, pickled cucumbers, meatballs and the ubiquitous eggrolls among the many selections there. Between these a mountain of clean plates (since you'll want to segregate your raw meat from the side dishes and the cooked meat) and a small salad bar. The kids nodded and off we went.

We returned from the buffet to stake out our real estate on the grills and found the waitress had delivered our beverages and supplied each table with tongs for managing meat on the grill and scissors for cutting your meat bite-sized. Since the kids had opted for their own table, John did double-duty -- eating on the adult side and drifting to the other table to make explanations, answer questions and take pictures. It was rewarding to watch as the teens -- especially the boys -- open their minds to things they'd never experienced before. They loved the cook-your-own aspect and were soon sworn devotees of the kalbi. We'd done it -- Chris was hooked on his first foray into Asian cuisine.

Okay fine, but where's the review? What about the food?

While it's not fine dining, The Palace certainly one of the best buffets in the greater bay area. We don't do buffet-style dining very often. When we do, a key to getting us to return is consistency -- a hallmark at The Palace. For $15.00 (at lunch, slightly higher for dinner), you can expect a clean environment (critical for a buffet), friendly, courteous service and high-quality fresh fare for barbecue. The side dishes are admittedly (but again consistently) mediocre -- but you're not going for the sides. When you DO opt for a salad or a small plate of noodles, you can be assured that while they're not local/organic/sustainable or for the matter much more than iceberg or chow mein -- they've also not been sitting in an ice bath or under a heat lamp for hours... or days. So if you're in Sunnyvale and in the mood for good quality Korean barbecue, be sure to check out The Palace.

The Palace Barbecue Buffet
1092 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale |

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peabody said...

Ha, Ha. Pastry chefs don't get the women...he does have a lot to learn :)