Chorney-Booth: Korean culture sizzles with Korilla’s meaty BBQ

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Going out to a restaurant and just sitting down to eat often doesn’t feel like enough these days. Diners increasingly want to feel entertained and get more bang for their buck through musical performances, stories about the food, or an accompanying wine or spirits tasting. Interactive cooking experiences like hot pot, fondue, teppanyaki table cooking, and Korean BBQ are becoming increasingly popular options for customers looking for something beyond typical dinners and drinks.

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While the idea of paying for the privilege of cooking your own food may sound like a bit of a grift, getting a gaggle of friends or family together to grill your own Korean BBQ can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re somewhere like the recently opened Korilla. There is suddenly a plethora of new Korean restaurants in Calgary, many of them offering self-guided table cooking, and Korilla is undoubtedly one of the best. Developed by the same team behind the outrageously popular Hankki Korean street food restaurant just down the street, Korilla is shepherded by co-owner and accomplished chef Simon Park, who was determined to give Calgarians a modern example of Korean BBQ culture.

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Korilla Korean BBQ owner and chef Simon Park, centre, with chef Dawoon Jeong, and manager Kyle Park share a laugh in the restaurant’s dining room. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

Park’s professional background is largely in Western-style cooking, working at spots like OEB and the Hyatt Regency Hotel, but he wanted to offer Calgarians an experience that mirrors what he has seen in hip restaurants in Korea. The first step was to bring in the very best barbecue equipment. While most Korean BBQ restaurants in Canada opt for conventional tables inlaid with cooktops, Park imported a series of dramatic round stainless steel tables fit with shiny circular grills and nifty adjustable hood fans to minimize the meaty aroma that tends to sink into guests’ clothing.

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The dining room of Korilla Korean BBQ features tabletop grills and a chic modern theme. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

It all makes for a slick-looking room, occupying the space on 17th Avenue S.W. formerly home to Chakalaka. Using modern equipment from Korea and installing a downstairs karaoke lounge is essential to Park’s vision of presenting a real slice of Korean culture.

“We really want to show how people eat in Korea,” Park says “There are other Korean barbecue restaurants in Calgary, Vancouver, and other parts of Canada that are very good. But we don’t see many that are exactly like you’d see in Korea.”

Plates of meat – ordered either a la carte ($26 to $42 with a two-choice minimum) or as part of a shared combo platter ($109 to $189) – are the specialty here, delivered to the table raw. First-time barbecuers should not be intimidated: the friendly staff happily offers instructions and will help determine when everything is properly cooked. It’s meant to be social and communal: the restaurant even has a supply of table extenders so large groups can gather around the grill, cooking up their food and snipping it with scissors so that everyone gets a taste of everything.

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Korilla Korean BBQ’s Cote Galbi (marinated short rib) sizzles on one of the tabletop grills. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

Naturally, there are plenty of included banchan side dishes and dipping sauces as well as the option to add a soup, salad, or side of something like japchae noodles ($18) or chicken wings ($16). The prices are a little higher than typical Korean BBQ restaurants in the city, but the quality is well above average and generous in portion – Park says he’s adamant that no one should leave the restaurant hungry or unsatisfied.

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Korilla Korean BBQ’s spicy tofu soup. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

Korean drinking culture is also well-represented with a nice selection of soju, including products from the Canadian Moon Soju, as well as Korean wine such as flavoured makgeolli rice wines.

Korilla is located at 1410 17th Ave. S.W. and can be reached at 825-540-1410 or through korilla.ca. The restaurant is open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday and from noon onward Friday to Sunday.

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The Earl Grey Highball, left, and Somsatang (cotton candy) are Korilla’s signature cocktails. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

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For another interactive dining experience, Le Petit Chef, a popular “dinner and a show” concept has touched down at the Dorian Hotel’s Bistro Novelle restaurant. The program involves whimsical 3D animations projected directly onto each table, showing a tiny chef building each dish before a plate of real food appears in front of each guest. The global phenomenon – currently available in 30 countries around the world – is the work of Skullmapping, an arts collective based in Belgium.

The Dorian’s four-course Le Petit Chef meals are priced at $129 for adults and $65 for kids aged 5 to 12 and vegetarian options are available. Reservations are currently available until the end of April and can be made at lepetitchef.com/Calgary.

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Finally, congratulations go out to Rupert Garcia, the talented chef at the Fairmont Palliser’s Hawthorn Dining Room. This past fall, Garcia won the local qualifier for the Great Kitchen Party’s Canadian Culinary Championship, earning him a spot at the national finals in Ottawa earlier this month. Garcia, unsurprisingly made a strong showing, receiving the silver medal and coming in just behind the gold medal winner Jasper Cruikshank from Wild Blue in Whistler, B.C. Garcia’s fellow Albertan JP Dublado from the Red Deer Resort and Casino also wowed the judges, securing the bronze medal place.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

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