There are more than 700 Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ locations worldwide, including 624 in Japan and one in New Orleans. That volume easily could translate to consistent but mediocre results, but the opposite is true at the Warehouse District location, which opened in January.
The space is contemporary and sleek, dominated by shades of gray and natural wood, with a small bar in front and ample banquette seating. Cries of “Irasshaimasu,” a traditional welcome to customers in Japanese restaurants and businesses, rings out as diners enter. That feeling of hospitality carries through the meal from start to finish with attentive service.
The extensive menu may intimidate diners new to yakiniku, the Japanese-style barbecue that Gyu-Kaku serves. Diners can choose to grill their own food on built-in charcoal grills, which suck smoke beneath the table. Staff members assist diners as needed and share cooking times for every grill item. The approach is adapted from Korean barbecue, which has become increasingly common in New Orleans, but Gyu-Kaku’s menu is larger, and, of course, has more Japanese dishes.
Grill options are plentiful. Customers can choose from set menus in a variety of sizes, combinations and prices. At lunch, the hearty Signature Cut Set is $14.95 per person and includes miso soup, salad, rice, edamame, marinated skirt steak, marinated kalbi rib meat, spicy yaki shabu beef and garlic shrimp.
A similar roundup of popular items on the dinner menu is the $70 Gyu-Kaku, recommended for two people but large enough to feed more. In addition to a variety of barbecue selections, that meal includes a couple of tasty appetizers: beef sukiyaki bibimbap, a flavorful combination of rice, sauteed onions and seasoned beef served in a hot stone bowl and a platter of spicy tuna Volcano, which features crispy fried rice cakes topped with spicy tuna.
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Proteins and vegetables are available a la carte, including premium beef options such as “Kobe”-style kalbi short rib for $23.50. Standard meat offerings are good, however, and diners shouldn’t worry that such upgrades are necessary. Marinated meats are uniformly flavorful and tender, and the shrimp and mushroom ahijo was excellent — with large, fresh shrimp infused with garlic flavor. Gyu-Kaku also provides sweet soy, ponzu and spicy sauces.
Non-grill options are equally appealing. A spicy cucumber appetizer delivered cool crunch and tingling spice, and Japanese-style fried chicken — crispy boneless chunks served with chili-mayonnaise sauce — disappeared quickly. Shio ramen was an unexpected highlight, its deeply flavored broth and tender slices of pork surpassing several places in town that specialize in ramen.
Gyu-Kaku offers a kids’ meal for $7, and it includes a choice of beef or chicken, gyoza, rice, salad, juice, and perhaps best of all, a s’more. S’mores are the restaurant’s signature dessert, enjoyed by adults as much as children.
The bar has a full selection of beer, wine, cocktails, sake and shochu, a Japanese spirit made from barley.
Grilling food requires a certain amount of attention, and may not be the preference for all diners. A table too caught up in conversation (or sake) easily can end up with burnt ends. But keep an eye on the clock (or the grill), and the reward far outweighs the effort.
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Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ
400 Lafayette St., (504) 507-8800; www.gyu-kaku.com/new-orleans
lunch and dinner daily
grilled meats and seafood, ramen, spicy tuna volcano
for some, serving as grill master
grill-your-own Japanese food in the Warehouse District
"It’s not really a chef-y coffee table book. We start with basic saute meuniere, and you build on that with different ingredients — brown butter, Parmesan crust, but still a very quick saute."