Who can count the number of times we San Luis Obispoans have lamented that we don’t have any upscale Asian restaurants in our county? Obviously, we didn’t include the sushi bars that are so prevalent across the Central Coast now (in fact, most of them are owned and operated by Korean-born chefs). We all complained we wanted good quality dishes true to the original source, be it Korea, Vietnam, or one of China’s many regional cuisines. That’s why I’m recommending this fabulous new eatery, SizzlinGogi Korean BBQ on Broadway in Santa Maria, for offering high quality foods that are fresh, exotic, and delicious.
- PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
- MARBLED PERFECTION : Definitely more food than one person can handle, this spread at SizzlinGogi is just a sampling of what’s available on the menu, which is all cooked on the grill in the middle of the table.
It may seem some distance outside the neighborhood for dining out, but this eatery is well worth driving over the county line for its entertaining and delicious lunch or dinner, and it doesn’t close between meal times. After hearing extremely high praise about it, I mentioned it to two sushi chefs at Off the Hook restaurant in Morro Bay. I was surprised when they were downright excited about hearing there was a genuine Korean BBQ and said they would happily drive over to Santa Maria to dine there if it was authentic. I promised I’d let them know once I tried it, and here’s my answer: I loved the experience, from the good quality ingredients to the attentive service. Now I’ll be thinking about dining at SizzlinGogi whenever I’m in Santa Maria, and I’m there frequently.
I heard about it when a Santa Maria winemaker I know who’s crazy about Korean BBQ gave it a rave review. That was a sign it wouldn’t be run of the mill. Then I received an e-mail from a regular reader in Morro Bay who wrote to me the same day he dined there; he was that excited about the quality of the food and the service. Those statements didn’t color my perception—I’m always critical about the food I’m served—but I wasn’t disappointed here. The ambiance is very modern and chic, with colorful materials covering the banquet seats, a glass-enclosed wine cellar, and pretty flower arrangements on the walls. There are two dining rooms, and every table has a gas grill in the center. You can cook your own meat and vegetables, or the servers will gladly grill them for you if you’re not inclined to tackle it. Believe me, it’s easy, and it’s fun.
On my first visit with a friend, we decided to order the “all you can eat” lunch (starting at $19.95, up to $29.95 per person) since it was our first taste test. All of the food presented was plentiful. The all-you-can-eat choices range from A to B and C, depending on how much you want to eat: Order A and you get a wide range of meat choices; order B and you get all of the A choices with an additional meat choices like ribeye steak, seasoned premium cut beef, beef rib meat, and pork jowl. Once you’ve chosen, servers immediately bring out a dozen little dishes of sides, called “banchans” in Korea. Each one has a intriguing and delightful taste treat, like kimchi (fermented Napa cabbage dressed with chile pepper sauce), lotus root, broccoli, hard-boiled egg cooked in soy sauce, and assorted pickled vegetables. There’s also a choice of white or brown rice, and choice of soups. The spicy tofu soup has bits of beef and onions and is quite spicy with chili garlic sauce.
They truly offer all you can eat, but at the bottom of the menu is this caveat: “Please order responsibly. We charge extra if you don’t finish your meat.” Other rules ask that everyone at the table orders the same A, B, or C choice if you choose the all-you-can-eat meal, and you can’t take out leftover foods. That’s understandable, considering their generosity, and they offer 25 percent off all you can eat if you’re older than 60. The wine list offers many of my favorite Santa Barbara County wines, like Curtis, Falcone, and Rusack, plus many other wines and some beers. When you sit down, you’re automatically served a delicious barley tea.
I met Peter Jun on my second visit; he and his sister Alice manage the restaurants for their father Sang Jun. An amiable, attentive manager, Peter spent time making sure the customers were happy, turning their food on the grill, and delivering platters. I learned from Wendy Thies Sell, my counterpart at the Sun, that Sang Jun formerly owned the Crab Cove in Santa Maria but had always wanted to open an upscale Korean restaurant. The Jun family also owns California Sushi & Teriyaki restaurants in Santa Maria and Lompoc, which I haven’t tried yet. But based on the quality of foods at SizzlinGogi, I will soon. After the meal, I met Peter and offered a suggestion: We need a restaurant like this San Luis Obispo’s South County. If this restaurant does well, he admitted, they might just build another one in SLO County.
I heard one complaint from a Facebook friend who said SizzlinGogi serves too much food. There are a la carte dishes like “bibimbap,” a bowl of white or brown rice with seasoned vegetables and your choice of beef, seafood, chicken, or vegetarian served with daily banchans. The prices on bibimbaps, entrées, and traditional soups and stews range from $9 up to $25, depending on the meat. These are better choices for people who don’t want all you can eat, but even these are generous portions. I understood his complaint, but I can only say that no one leaves hungry after dining here. And isn’t that what most locals want?
Contact Cuisine Columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at firstname.lastname@example.org.