Tabletop BBQ at Sik Gaek

THE COURIER/Photos by Bradley Hawks

“Oh, that’s probably too much food,” the server warns in a refreshing moment of honesty. “Most dishes are intended to serve three to four.”

He then reaches under the table for an invisible switch, and flames appear.

The restaurant is Sik Gaek, and the booths are tucked under tin awnings reminiscent of a back alley in a bustling Asian city, the walls plastered with karaoke posters. Next to each table sit enormous plastic red buckets where diners discard shells, bones and shrimp tails. This is Korean barbecue at its very best. It’s a whole different ballgame than the American version.

Soon the waiter returns and begins frying a couple of eggs in a skillet to be set aside as one of many garnishes. Next, a technicolor parade of small plates arrives, none of them ordered by the table. These are customary complimentary dishes often enjoyed as appetizers or used as toppings with the main course. There are bowls of flaming red kimchi—one of pickled mushrooms and vegetables, garlic cloves and jalapenos—and yet another steaming dish of what appears to be an egg soufflé. The Korean rice cakes are a favorite at Sik Gaek. The thin strips of fish cakes glistening with a glowing red sriracha glaze actually resemble long, chewy gnocchi. Lush leaves of bibb lettuce serve as jade wraps for the delicacies to come.

And now, the barbecue begins. Paper thin strips of bulgogi—sesame, soy and garlic marinated short ribs—sizzle and curl as they brown on the grill. A gargantuan, ice cube-studded platter covers the end of the table and brims over with piles of clams, sea snails, prawns, scallops, mussels and even shells full of crab meat, veggies and mozzarella cheese. It’s all slowly grilled on the tabletop.

Bold diners will want to try Sik Gaek’s famous plate, the seafood hot pot—a rice bowl placed over the grill and filled with fresh seafood, including a live octopus, that is slowly steamed over the heat. Skeptics may want to check out the YouTube clip with Anthony Bourdain and David Chang.

Whether you are adventurous or timid, the menu is ideally suited for sharing among friends who can agree on a few dishes. Even the spicy ramen soup is intended to feed a small family. Start off with a few orders and add more as you go along to gradually build a tableside grilled feast.

From steamed fresh lobster to beef short rib stew, monkfish and mackerel to prawns and scallops, each order arrives in heaping platters. Although health codes prevent guests from taking home unconsumed raw meats, don’t waste those untouched gems. Ask nicely, and your server will have the kitchen steam or grill your leftovers and package it to take home.

Sik Gaek
49-11 Roosevelt Ave, Woodside
Open daily from 3 p.m. to 4 a.m.