The design of Ombu Grill might seem unusual at first, with grills built directly into the tables and state-of-the-art ventilation system snaking from the ceiling.
But once guests begin to dine on Korean barbecue, the genius of the thoughtful environment becomes clear. The fans drop down over the cooking surface to keep the smell of smoke from overwhelming guests while they grill meats and vegetables to their heart’s (and stomach’s) content.
It is an all-you-can-eat concept, so a table of four should be able to sample a significant portion of the menu.
There is one caveat: Each table is allowed to order no more than four items at a time to reduce waste.
Servers converse easily and keep the pace of the meal flowing — which also keeps your stomach in check. If more than half a meal or half an order is discarded, guests will be charged. This rule doesn’t seem unreasonable as the cost of the all-you-can-eat experience is $19.99.
Most items are cook-your-own, so timing is everything — diners need to consider the length of time needed to finish cooking individual items as well as the length of the overall meal.
While Ombu is open at lunchtime with a smaller menu (33 items) and price point ($14.99), you’ll need to eat quickly to make the average lunch hour realistic.
The menu begins with a selection of fried appetizers that come to the table ready to eat. Firm tentacles of calamari were nicely fried in fresh oil while dumplings (similar to potstickers) were filled with savory pork and vegetables. Takoyaki (fried octopus balls) were a bit undercooked, but the bonito flakes and sweet sauce drizzled over the top delivered stellar flavors.
Three soups are available: miso, seafood tofu and a beef doenjang similar in flavor to beef stew but with a thinner consistency. If stomach space is at a premium, skip these and move on to the star of the menu: protein.
Everything at Ombu can be enhanced with a variety of dipping sauces that are found at a station at the front of the restaurant. Choose from spicy gochujang, hoisin, lemon and house sauce that can be seasoned or mixed and matched to individual tastes.
The Korean barbecue fun really begins with the meat and seafood — most of which are offered plain or marinated. Chicken thighs and breasts, shrimp, calamari, pork belly and sliced steak are excellent, high-quality options. The marinated versions were superior and required little in the way of added dipping sauces.
Bulgogi (steak marinated in soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil) was a table favorite for the tenderness and smoke-tinged flavors we were able to coax from the grill. Beef brisket and pork belly were a feast for the eyes as much as the palate, with beautifully arranged slices presented on platters ready for grilling.
Mackerel, herring and cuttlefish required more judicious cooking skill as they presented more challenges for the average home cook to know when properly prepared. The cuttlefish came with a giant pair of scissors to cut the meaty fish into bite-size pieces for cooking. Much like a typical kitchen, our table was littered with cooking utensils by the end of the evening. Fortunately, Ombu did the dishes.
To balance the prevalence of meat and fish on the menu, add at least one round of assorted vegetables to your order.
The bacon enoki mushrooms are another must-have. Bundles of slender enoki were wrapped with strips of bacon that melted into the firm stems of the mushrooms as they cooked.
Many of our fellow guests also ordered fresh lettuce leaves to wrap the meats. We followed suit — finding the greens a satisfying counter to the heaviness of the meat and an excellent delivery method for eating.
Servers at Ombu are happy to assist with cooking directions, including where to place the meats on the grill and suggestions on how to know if your item is done. When your grill pan becomes dirty, they will expertly replace it with a clean one, but you’ll then need to wait for it to heat up before continuing to cook.
A selection of banchan — or side dishes — will be delivered to your table at the beginning of the meal in traditional Korean style. These seem to change regularly but typically featured kimchi and pickled vegetables. They can be enjoyed throughout the meal and offset the cooked offerings nicely.
A small selection of beer, wine and sake is available, as well as desserts like the fried milk or macaroons — which all come at additional cost ($4.50 to $7.99).
Although Korean barbecue dining might not be to everyone’s taste, Ombu Grill delivers the concept expertly to adventurous eaters. For the all-you-can-eat price, it’s worth sharing the experience and flavors with friends and family at least once.
Heather L. King also writes for www.slclunches.com and can be found on social media @slclunches.
Ombu Grill ★★1/2 (out of ★★★★)
Korean barbecue comes to Salt Lake via the expertly designed Ombu Grill. State-of-the-art grills and ventilation turn this cook-your-own meal into an all-you-can-eat adventure.
Food • ★★★
Mood • ★★1/2
Service • ★★1/2
Hours • Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Entrée Price • $-$$
Online • www.utahombugrill.com
Location • 1438 S. State St., Salt Lake City; 801-484-4888
Children’s menu • No
Liquor • Beer, wine and sake
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • No
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
Onsite parking • Yes
Credit cards • All