Oz Korean BBQ
3343 Bradshaw Road @ Highway 50, Sacramento, CA 95827 •  916-362-9292

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Oz Korean BBQ
3343 Bradshaw Road
Sacramento, CA 95827
Tel. 916-362-9292
Fax 916-362-9293

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Where there's smoke
By Kate Washington

Oz Korean BBQ * * * ½
3343 Bradshaw Road, (916) 362-9292
Dinner for One: $10 - $20

At Oz, a new Korean barbecue restaurant off Highway 50, you immediately know you’re not in Kansas any more. Or are you? There’s certainly plenty of beef, just like in Kansas. The servers are as friendly and solicitous as anyone you’d find in the Midwest. And the delicious smell of the grill hangs over everything, leading to thoughts of an all-American cookout.

But no, definitely not. If you were in Kansas, there would be no giant murals, inspired by Tahoe and Yosemite, painted by a Korean artist. The beef would be less likely to have a savory soy- and garlic-scented marinade. And there wouldn’t be a dozen dishes of chili-spiked pickled vegetables at every table.

Oz Korean BBQ, open for about three months, packs a lot of surprises even if you’re not picked up and dropped off there by a stray tornado. From the outside, the sprawling building looks like it used to be the lobby of a motel with dreams of grandeur. The metal protuberances all over the roof, however, suggest docking ports for the mother ship. (I think they’re actually ventilation for the smoke hoods at each table.)

Inside, though, the mood is surprisingly sophisticated. Dark, sleek wood walls set an attractive tone, and pretty yellow panels painted with delicate blossoming branches enhance it. The big smoke hoods break the mood a bit, but without them the air would be opaque.

At each table, diners are intently watching the sizzling meat on the central grill. The dinner menu is mainly a list of meats that waiters grill at your table and which you pluck off as it’s done--a perfect and convivial dinner for a big group on a chilly fall night. The menu, not surprisingly, focuses heavily on beef, but there are other options. (If you’re vegetarian, however, you won’t find much, unless you’re looking for a meal of rice and kimchee.)

There’s a lunch menu as well, with big bowls of soups and stews, noodle dishes and the like. We tried a couple bowls of soup. The “Oz galbi” is a short-rib soup with thick clear noodles, savory meat, leeks and delicious mild broth. The bright-red “Oz chili soup” had shredded beef and vegetables. Despite the color, it wasn’t blow-your-head-off incendiary, but it had a good spicy flavor that deepened over the course of the dinner.

There’s also a menu of noodles made from sweet potatoes, capellini-thin with a curiously resilient texture. They come cold in broth, with vinegar and wasabi for dressing, a slice of beef and other accoutrements. Even the “small” side order was enormous.

In fact, our group of four had so much food we didn’t know what we would do with it all. We solved the problem by eating it. The pickled vegetables and other side dishes--an integral part of the meal--covered nearly the whole table in a panoply of interesting (and some unidentifiable to us) little bowls. Each of us got a delicious horseradish-pungent salad of shredded cabbage and other vegetables to start, as well as a bowl of cold orange broth with floated quartered slices of daikon and pieces of cabbage. It had an unusually delicate chili flavor and was a wonderfully appetizing way to start the meal.

Our server, meanwhile, was grilling up our first plate of beef--short ribs, also called “Oz galbi.” They were thick spirals of beef unspooled from the bone, so well marbled that the streaks of fat went a bit beyond marbling. When cooked, it was juicy and delicious, unctuous and sizzling. We also ordered beef bulgogi, which came cooked with a sweet-and-salty marinade and sauce. It was delicious with the plain white rice.

Our server had warned us off the duck, so we tried the chicken bulgogi. (“Our duck is not very good,” he confided, saying that it made too much smoke on the grill.) The chicken couldn’t quite measure up to the delights of the beef, but the garlicky marinade was tasty. Through experimentation, we found that we liked the chicken best when it was left on the grill until quite well browned. The pieces of onion and green onion that came with it were also good when very well cooked and caramelized.

The parade of accompaniments varied in their appeal. I particularly liked the lightly pickled Napa cabbage and the tangy shreds of daikon, as well as a chili-coated dish of plain kimchee and a little dish of what seemed to be spinach leaves with peanuts. Chunks of pickled cucumber (I think) were too bitter for me, and the slippery rice cake was a bit bland, but it was still fun to try it all.

Our server at one point apologized for neglecting us--the restaurant was having its busiest night to date, he said--but we never felt like we’d been left alone for too long. Besides, the table had a button you could press to summon a server, should you need one. (We never wanted to be quite that demanding.) It was plenty enjoyable to sit back, sip from a giant bottle of imported Korean beer (seju is also available), and see the show unfolding on the grills all around us as smoke swirled in the air.

Sacramento News & Review October 2004

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January 11, 2005

"...try Oz, a new Korean barbecue restaurant
15 minutes east of downtown, off Highway 50 at Bradshaw. With and experienced chef recruited straight from Seoul, the bulgogi (marinated beef) and kalbi (beef short ribs) are delicious. "

Journey to Oz

Grill offers a wide-ranging taste of Korean cuisine
By Mike Dunne -- Bee Restaurant Critic - (Published July 24, 2005)

The popularity of grilling when summer temperatures are at their peak is one of the enduring curiosities that makes life in Sacramento so fascinating.
It's 105 degrees? Who cares? Let's just keep standing over these coals while the burgers sizzle.
But there is an alternative for people who not only would like to grill in a cooler setting but wouldn't mind sitting down while they do it: Oz Korean BBQ on Bradshaw Road just south of Highway 50.
The alluringly sweet smell of beef on the grill is only one trait that distinguishes Oz the moment you walk in. Another is Korean artist Myung Soo Lee's grand and lyrical paintings inspired by visits to Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe high on the walls of the foyer. Another is the photos of Sacramento Kings coach Rick Adelman and Kings guard Bobby Jackson taken at the restaurant. They must have been photographed before dining; otherwise, they'd be looking more gleeful, given that Oz turns out a marvelously sophisticated and wide-ranging take on both traditional and contemporary Korean cooking.
But what really grabs your eye as you stroll into the two roomy dining areas is the huge fire extinguisher on one partition, 19 stainless-steel hoods angled over grills set into as many tables, and the unusual number of fairly large family groups gathered around the grills - poking, moving and turning strips of beef, pieces of chicken, slices of calamari and the like. They're having a good time, grilling in the summer and not working up a sweat as they do.
On the other hand, guests who would rather not spend $15 or $20 to cook their own dinner can have staff do it for them, either at one of the tabletop grills or in the kitchen.
Oz is accommodating. The restaurant has taken steps to help customers become better acquainted with Korean food. One is the several instructive photos of dishes in the menu. Another is the engaging server Tina Barrow, who with patience and clarity explained each dish as she served it. Each table also has a button for summoning a server, though I first thought the buttons might be to alert firefighters should the grilling get out of control.
If servers sense that this is your first visit to Oz, they will take the initiative in handling the cooking, constantly fiddling with the heat, trimming the meat as they go along and shifting the shrimp from the hot end of the grill to the cool and back. For some diners, it's entertainment; for others, it can be intrusive, but they can always do the cooking themselves or have their selections prepared in the kitchen.
Oz offers diners a compact and manageable menu that nevertheless represents the diversity of Korean cookery, which is much more extensive and refined than the richly marinated beef and piquant kimchi with which it frequently is associated.
We began our first meal at Oz, for example, with the seafood pajun - also known as jun - a kind of rice-flour pancake or flatbread that arrived bubbling hot on a cast-iron skillet ($12.99). Tina called it a "Korean pizza." It was round and topped with calamari, shrimp and clams. Green onions gave it spice and additional color. While the pancake was light, the texture was creamy and the overall impact was filling. Flavors were subtle but interesting, with a sweet and vinegary dipping sauce brightening the taste of the seafood.
The menu lists several casseroles, stews and soups, all of which read as if they would be more fitting for fall and winter than summer. Nonetheless, we ordered a bowl of the chili soup, whose deep red color was a fair warning of the spicy heat of the broth, gleaming with long, glassy rice noodles and muscular with shreds of lean and rich beef ($8.99). It was terrific, but if I were to order it again, I'd wait until a chilly and foggy night in December.
A staple of the Korean table, galbi, or the trimmed, tenderized and marinated beef of short ribs, provided the foundation for a vigorous kind of wrap. As demonstrated by Tina, a couple of the small chewy strips of the meat are layered on a sweet, salty and spicy fermented soybean paste spread on a leaf of lettuce, dressed with slivers of garlic, daikon radish and rice, rolled and dipped into a thin and mild barbecue sauce ($19.99). The combination of flavors and textures was a delightful introduction to the rustic complexity of Korean cuisine.
The menu notes that the meat had been "diamond hand cut," a mystery to me until John Kim explained the practice. It's a technique by which his wife, Young Kim, and other cooks tenderize beef by thinly slicing it and then scarring the pieces with a series of shallow incisions in a cross-hatch pattern that resembles diamonds. By and large, it worked, though a few pieces of the galbi were chewier than others but not quite tough.
Oz starts each meal with an assortment of banchan, or small side dishes. They are brought out all at once and are meant to be shared by the entire party. The array is unusually extensive and varied. On our visits, the assortment included whole anchovies, pungent, spicy and salty; at least two kinds of kimchi, from mild to spicy; sweet roasted potatoes; and boiled spinach.
On our next visit, we ordered dishes to be cooked on the grill in front of us. Exceptions were crispy, small and rich deep-fried beef-and-vegetable pot stickers ($7.99 for 10) and a thick and unusually rich fillet of salmon on a hot iron plate, glazed with a restrained teriyaki sauce ($13.99).
The highlight of the dishes cooked on the grill was the "Tokyo X," long and thick slices of pork belly that had been marinated in apple and pear juices, jalapeño peppers, black pepper, ginger and onion ($15.99). Think bacon but with slices thicker, juicier, spicier and sweeter, though no less fatty. Our server would grill a few slices directly over the flame, holding in reserve on the cooler end of the rack the other pieces, prompting the wag at the table to call them "pork belly futures."
We also ordered the rib-eye steak, a thick slab of meat not at all marinated ($20.99). Our server this night was a focused and facile artist who with scissors, knife and tongs sliced and trimmed the meat as it cooked, scattering across our plates small pieces as they finished. All the seasoning the rich, succulent meat needed was the blend of sesame oil and salt on small plates given each diner.
The only major letdown was the shrimp platter ($17.99). The shrimp came off the grill bland, tough and lacking any kind of seasoning.
Oz's platoon service was friendly and fast, but with a rushed intensity that made us feel as if we should hurry to finish our meal, even though tables were vacant and no one was waiting.
The restaurant is spacious and open and can get loud when it is especially busy. When a guy comes out to scrub the grills between parties, you feel kind of like you are dining in a garage while your car is being serviced.
The wine list is undistinguished, but Oz does offer an appealing selection of Korean and other Asian beers. The menu also refers ambiguously to "soft liquors," but the photo of a lineup of bottles doesn't really help explain what they are or how they are to be consumed.
John and Young Kim opened Oz, their first restaurant, a year ago. He's been teaching accounting at California State University, Sacramento, for 17 years. She majored in Korean cooking at Pusan National University in Korea several years ago, then studied with their consulting chef, Jin Lee, in Seoul for four months just before opening Oz.
They expect that their son, Peter Kim, who has been accepted into the Culinary Institute of America, eventually will take over the restaurant, which is named after his favorite movie.
Oz Korean BBQ
3343 Bradshaw Road, (916) 362-9292 3 stars /$$$-$$$$
FOOD: Oz offers a manageable but diverse selection of traditional and modern Korean cooking, from staples such as marinated short ribs to a teriyaki-glazed hot-plate salmon.
AMBIENCE: Spacious, airy and somewhat loud setting is distinguished by 19 large tables with built-in as-fired grills for cooking your own seafood and beef.
HITS: Menu includes several helpful photos of dishes that might be unfamiliar. No corkage fee if you bring your own wine. Parking more than adequate and convenient.
MISSES: Though some dishes are listed on the menu as appetizers, don't expect them to be served any sooner than larger plates.
HOURS: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays.

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