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E-Pin Korean Grill House’s novelty concept is fun for a while, but if you’re cooking your own food, it needs to excel

E-Pin offers up a feast, but you need to do the grilling yourself. - MELISSA BUOTE
  • E-Pin offers up a feast, but you need to do the grilling yourself.
  • Melissa Buote

E-Pin Korean Grill House's novelty concept is fun for a while, but if you're cooking your own food, it needs to excel, says Melissa Buote.

It's hard to review a restaurant where you cook much of the food yourself. I imagine writing, "Great job, me," before reaching around to pat myself on the back. "And you, friends, it was wonderful, the way you cooked that meat in front of me, that meat which we then ate together." To put it shortly, there is nothing less natural in the world to me than reviewing a meal I made myself outside of my own inner monologue.

Much like fondue or teppanyaki, the social construct of Korean barbecue is a bit of a novelty here in Halifax. While culinary culture in Korea is as much about healthy relationships as it is about healthy food, there are only a handful of places offering tabletop cooking locally, E-Pin Korean Grill House being the only restaurant in town wholly dedicated to the cook-it-yourself concept.

My two friends and I arrive to an almost empty restaurant on a Sunday evening. The room is pretty and modern, sleek and almost silky with the slight sheen of the silvery wallpaper and blue fabric of the seats. The last of the day's sunlight is streaking through the bay of windows facing Barrington Street, onto rows of tables with Korean grills embedded in the tops. Unlike traditional gas or coal grills, these ones use infrared heat.

We order the fixed-price dinner for three people ($99). It includes appetizers, entrees and dessert.

We split two orders of dumplings and an order of edamame to start. The dumplings have the dried-out taste of freezer burn, their edges opaque and tough. The edamame are slightly shrivelled, a suspiciously microwavey texture. It's a poor start to the meal.

A slew of prepared side dishes are delivered next: steamed rice; potato with soya sauce; spicy carrots; bean sprouts with sesame oil; japchae (stir-fried glass noodles); slices of scallion pancakes; kimchi and a basket of lettuce leaves. We're also given little bowls of ssamjang, sesame oil and fresh jalapeno and garlic.

There's nothing bad in the bunch. The potatoes are a highlight, tender, sweet and starchy. The bean sprouts are another favourite; it's a nutty and refreshingly crisp dish. The kimchi, however, is a tad disappointing. It's very mild, not offering much in the way of tang.

A 30-second spiel on using the grill from our server turns out to be the starting pistol for a marathon of a meal. For more than two hours we work our way through cooking short rib, teriyaki chicken, bulgogi, spicy pork and a vegetable medley with sweet corn, eggplant, onion, squash and tofu.

The short rib is frozen solid. So is the corn. We put them on the grill first, along with the thick round of onion and some of the other vegetables. None of us are very familiar with infrared grills and the vegetables seem especially slow to cook. The electric grill means there is no exciting sizzle to whet the appetite and the novelty wears off pretty quickly.

As our meal nears its end, a table of 18 and another table of nine arrive. It's a little while before we see our server again, but he does eventually return and does his best to split his attention in the now action-packed room.

We finish our meals with green-tea ice cream and a slice of blueberry cheesecake. The blueberry cheesecake---clearly not made in-house---is still half-frozen.

All in all, the food was fine and the concept is fun, but like any dinner party it's really the company you keep that will make or break the experience.

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