When you go for all-you-can-eat (AYCE), there are two stages that everyone inevitably goes through. Start off on a high, because who doesn't like unlimited food? You're a little trigger-happy at this point, checking off all those boxes on the ordering sheet or loading your plate up at the buffet. Then you eat and eat and eat. You might go for another round or two, depending on how much stomach space you've got. When you're in pain, you know you've hit the second stage: food coma, or in other words, instant regret.
Regardless of whether you cringe or celebrate at the mere mention of AYCE, you can't deny the lure of "value." Because it promises something for everyone at a fixed price, it's a popular pick for group gatherings and celebrations. (Heaven knows you can't go for AYCE on a regular basis without consulting your family physician and cardiologist first.)
While most AYCE places in the city are of the Japanese variety, another popular one (especially for carnivores) is Korean BBQ. Edmonton is a bit lacking when it comes to restaurant options, but one of the main, if only, restaurants serving AYCE Korean BBQ is Ginseng, located on the city's southside.
We came to Ginseng on a Thursday night, as SC's birthday celebration was a bit overdue, and Korean BBQ was her choice for dinner. My family and I have been to Ginseng a few times before, but it's been many many years since my last visit.
Walking in, AL was very smart to leave her jacket in the car, because as you know, your clothes will end up smelling like BBQ for days. That's one of the things you have to plan for. Just don't wear anything too fancy and you'll be okay. (KN even said she was wearing one of her pajama shirts). Grippy shoes would also be good because for whatever reason, their floors are super slippery.
Weekends at Ginseng are usually very busy, but a weekday, not so much. Each table and booth is outfitted with a grill along with a ventilation hood over top. The restaurant also has a "private" room in the back corner which is perfect for larger groups.
I'm pretty sure Ginseng has an actual menu that you can order from, but most people come here for AYCE. $36 per person grants you unlimited access to their buffet, as well as a drink with unlimited refills (pop, tea, or coffee).
I was more focused on the meat so I can't recall everything that was served on the buffet line. Also, the selection was more sparse than I remembered, but maybe because it was a weekday. Banchan included kimchi, bean sprouts, and radish. There was regular rice and fried rice for carbs, soup to warm you up, and vegetable fritters. Meats included beef, pork, chicken, and lamb, some marinated and some not. Seafood is also offered, from mussels, shrimp, to two cuts of squid (whole and strips). Vegetables round out the selection with carrot, onion, mushrooms, and zucchini, as well as lettuce for wrapping. Fruit is served at the very end as your "dessert."
We all loaded up plates and set to grill. Tongs and scissors are already provided at the table, along with two dipping sauces: hot sauce and a sesame-soy concoction. Since most of the meats are already marinated, I didn't find them as necessary.
Because you do everything on your own, staff don't come around that often, only to refill drinks or to replace the grill pan which blackens pretty quickly.
For the most part, the marinated meats are good but flavour is more on the muted side. The meat is tender if you cook it well, dry if you don't (but that's really on you). If you can eat a lot, $36 seems fair but it's a pretty penny regardless. I'd say food quality and selection is average, but you're paying more for the interactive experience of cooking your meal while spending time with friends.
If any of you ever try out Ginseng, do go hungry and don't forget your stretchy pants.