Word of Mouth

Video: Sik Gaek's live octopus hot pot

Between meals at Seoul BBQ, 2080 South Havana Street in Aurora, I went to New York City, and some friends and I made the trek out to Queens to experience Sik Gaek, a Korean barbecue joint that's gained nationwide notoriety for its gimmickry -- including booming Korean pop, yelling servers, wall-to-wall tacky decor, and the chance for diners to cook live creatures for dinner. Like octopus.

At this restaurant, several dishes feature live octopus, bulbous creatures that you drop into the hot pot, where they die a slow, heat-induced death. One hot pot, the san-nakji-chulpan, adds a recently decapitated live lobster to the mix, creating a spectacle of frenetic movement, a sacrificial show before dinner. And if you're not careful, you'll be making the sacrifice.

If you eat the octopi too soon, you'll experience a slight sucking on your tongue. Dig into the lobster too fast, and you may very well have your finger snapped. Watch the pot too long, and you may find your stomach knotted in despair.

Once my stomach unclenched, though, I found that the octopus was some of the freshest, most succulent seafood I'd ever put in my mouth -- and definitely the best thing in a massive bowl of prawns, crab and tiny squid tentacles. The lobster was a different story: Using just chopsticks as tools, it was tough to tackle the crustacean.

But then, at Sik Gaek, dinner is about the entire experience, not just the food. I'm just glad my dining mate, Kristina Woo, caught it on video.

For my review of Seoul BBQ, check back here later today.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk