Seongbukdong is The Definitive
OK: one more try. Sku pushed this place forever; because of him I fell in love with it and ended up writing an article about it, but for some reason the Chowhound Collective Consciousness has not yet picked up on this place very much at all. So I am going to stand up here and shout it out: SEONGBUKDONG IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT, DEFINITIVE LOS ANGELES RESTAURANT EXPERIENCES AND EVERY BRAVE CHOWHOUND WORTH THEIR FREAKING SALT SHOULD GO HERE AND EAT THIS CRAP OR THEY WILL DIE AN UNFINISHED SOUL. There. OK?
The necessary dishes: braised mackerel (funky-as-hell), braised short rib (sweet, soft, succulent beef-candy), anything with the fermented soy paste.
In my mind, there are two things here that are so utterly definitive, that the proper appreciation of them will change your understanding of Korean food. They are landmarks. Like, say, Chung King and Guelaguetza used to be, this is a place that We Los Angeles Chowhounds should use as a reference point, gold-standard, common talking point, whatever.
They are: the braised mackerel, and the pickled daikon that comes in the panchan spread. These are the Deepest Funk.
Braised mackerel: like mackerel, but more so. Mackerel: the Undiscovered Country. Going deeper into the deep-funky depths of mackerel that you would have thought possible. Mackerel: it's going to get you.
Pickled daikon: OK, I'll be honest. This is my current single favorite bite in Los Angeles, and has been for months. I dream of it, in a pretty sensual and probably inappropriate way. It is the deepest, the most overwhelmingly amazing, the most wild and full and crazy, pickled thing I know. It is: champagny, bubbly, deep, fermented, full, sour, tangy, acidic, high, low, full, round, cascading, brutal, everything. If most of the other (quite good) pickled daikons in K-town are like, you know, a Tillamook sharp cheddar, this one is like the finest artisinal stilton, room temperature and full of stanky life. This pickled daikon is the woman I probably deeply need but am too afraid to admit it to myself. This pickled daikon will beat you and make you like it. This pickled daikon is a-MAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-zing.
Do not go here if you are afeared of the funk. Do not go here if fermented, intensity scares you. Go here if deep blue cheese and properly gorgeously-foot-stanky camembert is your thing. Go here if you like the kind of Belgian beer that so alive it's like the yeast are farting on your tongue. Go here if you like rye whiskey, if you like wild yeast sourdough, if you like organ meats.
Go here if you like life.
We went there tonight, my husband me and our little boy (2 yrs old). Damn, this place is amazing. Some of the tastiest food we've had since we moved here from NYC earlier this summer. That braised short rib was just as delicious as Thi says---we cook a pretty mean short rib ourselves but that flavor knocked me out. I would love to know what all was in there. Our 2 year old even appreciated it---I think he easily had a third of the dish. Loved the spicy pork too though I wouldn't have minded it a little spicier. Kimchis were superb. Will need to go back for that mackerel!
re: Thi N.
I've been here a few times and have to agree that this is the best place I've been to in K-town. The kalbijim (braised short-ribs) are just amazing (although my wife, who's Korean American, laments the lack of radishes and ginkgo nuts that I guess are typically found in this dish). The braised mackerel is outstanding, too. They also have an excellent seafood dolsot bibim bap, with copious amounts of nureongi (crispy rice). Much better than the dolsot bibim bap at Jeon Ju. The only thing I've had that was less than stellar is the pajeon (seafood pancake), which is still very good, but is so full of seafood that the batter barely binds it together. Still tastes great, though.
Oh god! I'm *so* glad to hear this.
The only reaction I got to my initial article was a single Tweet that I found through Google - "Is C. Thi Nguyen crazy? Went to Seonbukdong. The mackerel is *rancid*!"
Things like that make me actually feel crazy.
I think perhaps remembering being told that the nut-and-radishless braised short rib were a particular feature of that region's style. The stuff here is all done *exactly* as it was from her province, from what she told me, and so some of it is either unique, or a little tweaked from Seoul-standard-style.
Agreed on pajun: the soul here is in things simmered, stewed, souped.