Munch goes to Sushi Kim's Korean barbecue buffet

Raw meat? Check. All-you-can-eat? Check. Happy Munch? Check.

Every now and then, Munch likes to indulge (i.e. gorge) at Sushi Kim's Korean barbecue buffet in the Strip District.

By day, Sushi Kim serves sushi and Korean dishes. On Friday and Saturday nights, however, the restaurant opens its second floor for a $21.95 per person all-you-can-eat buffet.

If you're thinking, wow, Munch, that's a pretty penny these days, you're clearly underestimating Munch's commitment to the value-conscious consumer. Not only does the meal include as much beef and chicken bulgogi, shrimp, sliced pork, short ribs, cuttlefish and mussels as you can stuff into your pretty little mouth, but also comes with miso soup, rice, sides and veggies.

The set up is not unlike the Roy Rogers Fixin's Bar of yore, but instead of mealy tomatoes and wilted lettuce, this stand-alone buffet has raw meat on one side and vegetables and sides on the other.

Oh, and you cook the food yourself.

A gas grill is built into each table (a normal-size table, not Benihana-size), and each table is provided with a couple sets of tongs. Though Munch has seen do-it-yourself table grills in Korean restaurants in New York and Virginia, Sushi Kim is the only place Munch has seen them in the Pittsburgh area.

Waiters are around to provide guidance if asked, but diners do most of the cooking themselves.

As Munch, Dear One of Munch, Lawyer Friend of Munch and Budding Psychologist Friend of Munch found, this actually requires some concentration.

About halfway through, for example, it occurred to Munch that perhaps different tongs should be used for placing the raw food on the grill and then picking it up when cooked. Luckily, there've been no lawsuit threats from Lawyer Friend of Munch, so Munch thinks everyone escaped without post-meal violent illness.

The party of Munch also sometimes spent more time chatting and less time monitoring burning shrimp and shriveled mussels.

But overall, Munch had a delightful feast. While the first round of meat was cooking, Munch sampled the side dishes, such as spicy homemade kimchi (pickled cabbage) and surprisingly addictive pickled radish that must be some sort of Korean comfort food.

Party of Munch also enjoyed checking out the, um, eclectic second-floor decor, from the digitally flowing waterfall picture, complete with gushing sound effects, to the Chinese scroll painting, to the picture of the half-Korean Hines Ward.

Although Munch and company were the only diners there when they arrived at 7:30, the place began to fill shortly afterward with other customers, mainly young ones of Asian extraction.

As a relative newbie, Munch depended heavily on the extremely helpful Waiter of Munch, who suggested cooking the unseasoned foods, like the shrimp, together with those that were already marinated, like the sweet and spicy chicken bulgogi.

He also recommended cooking the very thinly sliced fresh pork on the outer edge of the grill, as not to overcook it, and advised which meats would go well with some of the raw veggie options, such as onions, mushrooms and garlic.

Chopsticks were provided to eat the food, but Munch preferred the Korean technique of wrapping meat and rice in pieces of exceptionally fresh lettuce laden with soy bean paste and shoveling it down the Mouth of Munch.

Lawyer Friend of Munch, on the other hand, spent much of the meal fumbling with both lettuce leaves and chopsticks, desperately wanting a fork but refusing to be the guy who actually asked for one.

About an hour in, Munch started to feel like one of those lettuce leaves -- overstuffed and tearing on the inside. Still, Munch couldn't get enough of that chicken bulgogi, picking every last burnt scrap off the grill.

The barbecue isn't something Munch would do everyday, which is good, because it's only open from 5 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, although large group reservations are possible on Sundays.

There are also a couple of rules to consider: Only those eating the barbecue are allowed on the second floor, so mixed meals with vegetarians are virtually impossible (although seafood eaters will find mussels, cuttlefish and shrimp at the buffet). There's also a 10 percent surcharge for wasted food, so diners should make frequent trips back to the buffet rather than loading up on more raw meat than they can finish.


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