Seongbukdong – Korean Braised Beef (Kalbi Jjim) and Mackerel Specialist in Koreatown
**For full post and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2012/01/seong...
I’m a big proponent of specialist restaurants because you know they are going to make that specific dish well. In Asia, it’s very common to see specialist restaurants, but when you go to Asian communities in the U.S. you tend to see a lot of “jack of all trades master of none” type of restaurants.
However, one of the good things about the LA food scene is that the Asian communities are large enough that you actually do see quite a lot of specialist restaurants. Seongbukdong is one of those types of restaurants. It is a tiny Korean restaurant located in Koreatown that specializes in two dishes, kalbi jjim (braised beef) and godeungeo (mackerel).
The restaurant is a small room looks very Korean with lots of wood finishing and off white wall paper with lots of different newspaper clippings about the restaurant in many different languages (Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese). We went at lunch and it was totally packed with about a 15 minute wait. The servers were pretty nice and speak English although my girlfriend spoke with them in Korean, but my relatives spoke to them in English since we’re not Korean and they were able to converse fine.
Here’s what we got:
- Complimentary Starter Dishes (Banchan): They had an interesting selection of banchan, which are complimentary dishes that you are given at the beginning of a meal at Korean restaurants. Here they gave us green chilis with tenjang (fermented bean paste), marinated mushrooms, cucumbers and bamboo, kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage) and a cold egg custard with scallions that hads the consistency tofu. I thought all of the banchan were quite good and fresh and they were also a little different than the banchan most restaurants serve. 8.25/10
- Fermented Bean Stew (Tenjang Chigae): Tenjang chigae is a fermented bean paste stew that is a staple Korean dish. The broth is pretty self-explanatory and it’s got tofu, enoki mushrooms and scallions in it as well. When it’s made right it’s quite good, but unfortunately it fell pretty flat here. The ingredients were generally fine, but the broth was way too salty and just sort of came together poorly. I didn’t think it had a very good tenjang flavor either. 6.5/10
- Grilled Mackerel (Godeungeo Gui): I really like simple grilled fish, so I was excited about trying it here. This was grilled mackerel with some salt and lemon. It was grilled very nicely where it has a slight crisp on the outside, but the meat was quite tender without being mushy. It was a solid dish. 8.5/10
- Braised Mackerel (Godeungeo Jorim): This was interesting as I’ve never had this dish before. It was cut up mackerel that was still on the bone in a sauce made of fermented cabbage. The sauce was quite pungent and had a very fermented flavor. The mackerel was quite tender and had good texture. I thought it was pretty decent, but it had a very strong fermented flavor and I’m not sure it’s something I’d crave to eat. 7.75/10
- Braised Beef (Kalbi Jjim): Kalbi jjim is one of my favorite Korean dishes. It’s beef that is braised in a sweet soy sauce marinade. It tastes just like it sounds and if you like slightly sweet foods and tender meat then this is a dish you will enjoy. The marinade here was excellent and tastes exactly how it should. The beef was a bit inconsistent, I’d say about 25% of the meat was nice and really tender, but other 75% was too dry. I know what this is supposed to taste like because my girlfriend’s mom cooks the best version I’ve ever had (including in Korea) and I’d say the marinade is quite similar, but in her version every piece is melt in your mouth tender. If they had gotten all of the meat to be tender it would’ve been gone from a good dish to a great dish. 8/10 (this could’ve been an 8.5-8.75 if the beef was consistently tender
)- Spicy Pork (Daeji Bulgogi): This is sliced pork that has been marinated in a spicy and sweet chili sauce. The dish looked really good, but the version here was just okay. The pork wasn’t tender enough and I thought it was a bit overly sweet. 7/10
Overall, I thought it was good although I don’t think it quite lived up to the hype of a lot of the reviews I read (particularly on yelp) where it is generally universally highly praised although it’s worth checking out.
Thanks for reporting back, and for the thoughtful review. I'm a little surprised by your experience with the galbi jim -- whenever I've had it, it's been perfection. I've only been there for dinner -- I wonder if that could account for any differences. I also before they get busy, like around 6pm.
I'm less surprised about the bulgogi. There are so many good bbq specialists in K-town that they may have it on the menu only as a concession to "moniverous" guests, and thus put less effort into it.
I'm not sure what to think about the tenjang jigae. I never eat tenjang jigae in restaurants as my wife makes a version that's hard to beat. I'd have thought theirs would be better than you've described, though.
its always possible they have a different lunch vs dinner chef. it was on the cusp of being really good, but there was simply too many pieces that were a bit on the dry side. if it was all tender then i would've said it was really good.
yah i only ordered daeji bulgogi b/c some people wanted more food and i saw it on several tables, so we ordered it.
tenjang chigae is easy to mess up actually and i'd say most restaurants mess it up, but the server actually recommended it, so we got it. it's okay though b/c it wasn't the reason why i was coming there so i wasn't expecting much from it
wanted to comment that i finally went there today for lunch and ordered the braised mackerel... i guess b/c i usually get grilled and i wanted to try something different. i liked it! my only complaint was that there were SO MANY bones... ugh. but overall i thought it was good and i'm glad i tried it. and i do agree, did not live up to the hype. the banchan was good, but not great. my friend found her soup to be bland. i tasted it and it was very bland.