You know that feeling, when you wake up craving those marinated meats, cooked right in front of you, matched with a dozen spicy, salty, fermented side dishes, and paired with an ice cold Korean beer or home made soju. But then you, a resident of Washington, DC, realize that in order to feed that craving, you’ve gotta find a way to get yourself to Annandale or, worse, Maryland. So your stomach and your brain battle it out and settle for something closer to home, but that craving never really goes away.
Well you are in luck. Because today, the geniuses behind our beloved Duke’s Grocery and Duke’s Counter are opening up a giant Korean BBQ emporium right in the heart of our nation’s capital. In the old Kit + Ace space in The Shay at 8th and Florida, you’ll find all those marinated meats, banchan, and soju cocktails your heart’s been dreaming of. We got to drop by for a media preview on Monday, and here’s what we found.
Our first impression is that the space is just plain cool. It’s got custom murals all over the place by a local artist, and the lighting and seating gives it an industrial vibe. And if you’ve been turned off by some Korean BBQ spots in the past because they were too smokey, Gogi Yoki took care of that for you. Most of the columns you see are not for support, but rather part of an intricate ventilation system that pulls the steam and smoke out of the cook tops from the bottom. No longer will you have to worry about smelling like all the meats when you leave a KBBQ dinner.
The tables are simply set and reminiscent of some of the classic Korean BBQ spots in Los Angeles. The scissors and tongs are yours for the using, but be aware that your table will have a dedicated waiter/cook who will help you out with the cooking of the proteins.
Of course Gogi Yogi has your classic Korean beers – you can even get them served in beer tower form for a true communal drinking and dining experience. But they also have an impressive selection of soju, some of which they’ve made into cocktails. We tried the Yuja Made Me, which gives you the choice of gin or tequila, and pairs it with yuja (the Korean version of the better-known Japanese, yuzu fruit), lemon juice, and simple syrup. It was light but flavorful, and reminded us of a more refined lemon drop.
Next up came our starters. Despite being focused on the grilled meats (and seafoods!) Gogi Yogi has some impressive small plates. Later this year, they’ll open up patio seating which won’t have the tabletop grills, but will give you the opportunity to sample all of these other menu items. Trust us, the meats are good, but you won’t be disappointed without them.
So to start, we had the meat mandu, which were like spiced beef filled spring rolls. There’s also a veg option. Both come with this Korean red pepper soy dip, which is spicy, but not too spicy, with just enough of a bite to balance out the fried, breaded meat.
Then we got the Korean BBQ wings, which came with a sweet and spicy glaze and some wet wipes, which turned out to be quite necessary. These are perfectly fried, with a sweet and savory sauce that is incredibly cravable.
Thankfully we weren’t hungover, but after just a few bites of this soup, we could tell that it would cure just about any hangover we had. It’s got all the salty, meaty, spicy goodness that you want with just enough kick to keep you coming back for more. It’s a pork broth with plenty of radishes and veggies and thin beef strips inside.
At this point we realized we may have over ordered, but we powered through. These onion rings are lightly fried and served with what we thought was the best sauce of all the sauces we had. It’s a little unclear what all is in it, but it’s a close (yet more delicious) cousin to your typical spicy mayo. Put this on everything.
Thankfully our last starter before our meat fest began was fresh and light. The japchae was served relatively chilled with a faint sauce that really brought out the flavors of the vegetables and the noodles. It’s a great option for vegetarians, and a delightful light bite before you go hard on the grill
As every fan of Korean BBQ knows, the banchan can often steal the show away from even the best of the grilled meats. And these guys almost did (but the meats were too good). The kimchi is spicy, the sprouts are funky, the beets are earthy, and everything just works together to whet you appetite for more.
Finally, the main event. We left our protein options in the very capable hands of our waitress, who suggested we begin with the marinated baby octopus. Think calamari, but on steroids – spicy Korean steroids. These guys cook relatively quickly and get a nice crisp and char, especially on the tentacles. The marinade (side note: we learned that each protein, while similar, has a different marinade unique to it) was tangy with a little bit of a kick. Our waitress further suggested we throw in some of the veggie plate to cook with the octopi so they could soak up some of the marinade. We took her suggestion, and we would do it again. It all worked out perfectly together.
Our second round on the grill was the classic bulgogi. It felt like a crime to come to Korean BBQ and not get bulgogi, so we did. It was nicely sliced to cook quickly and get crisp edges, yet remain tender and maintain all of that good marinade flavor. We had the waitress bring out some rice and lettuce wraps with a side of gochujang paste so we could make our own Korean tacos and would recommend.
Last but certainly not least, we got the plain pork belly. There’s also an option for marinated spicy pork (which I’m sure is delicious), but after two rounds of marinated meats, we wanted to keep it simple. These were relatively thickly sliced, but still cooked quickly due to the change of grill cover to one that gives a little more open flame. These cuts were tender and juice and paired perfectly with the sesame oil/salt/pepper dip. At this point we were ready for a long nap.
Moral of the story: If you like good meats, if you like fun, interactive dinners, if you like fermented cabbage, or if you like interesting soju cocktails, get to Gogi Yogi as fast as you can. It’s a big space, but I imagine it’ll fill up soon and often. Take a big group and order as much as possible to try. Oh and ask your waiter about Patrice Cunningham, the wizard behind the culinary team. She’s got a hell of a story to tell about how she got where she is now.