Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Gabose Korean BBQ Restaurant - Lauderhill
On a certain level, I think we all agree with Beavis and Butthead: fire is cool.
But fire - in the form of table-top charcoal BBQ - is just one of the many things that are cool about Gabose, a Korean restaurant in Lauderhill.
I won't pretend to have "discovered" Gabose. Though it has no website and does little advertising, the place is not exactly a secret - it's been around for about ten years, and was featured a couple years ago on Check Please! I also won't be the one to vouch for its authenticity - I'll leave that to those who have, or claim, more expertise in such matters. But I will say this: Gabose is just about everything I hope for in a Korean BBQ restaurant.
Since it's difficult to find online, I've posted photographs of the menu here, as shaky and blurry as these iPhone pics may be; click on any picture to enlarge (there is also a full Japanese menu, but really, why bother?):
The menu starts with a list of nearly a dozen appetizers, several of which are variations on "jun" (also spelled "jeon"), a kind of savory pancake that can contain any number of different ingredients. The kimchee jun was flecked throughout with tangy fermented kimchee, the pancake thin and crisp-edged with a texture oddly but happily reminiscent of matzo brei, and served with a soy and vinegar sauce for dipping. It was a generous portion the size of a large dinner plate, cut into triangles for serving.
Also among the appetizers are mandu, the Korean version of potstickers, available either steamed or pan-fried. We went with the latter, which delivered a plate of about ten dumplings, with a delicate crisp casing and a more vegetable-intensive filling than you find in the "typical" Japanese pork-and-ginger stuffed gyoza. These disappeared quickly. Slightly less of a hit was the "yangneumtofu." Described as a house-made tofu with spicy sauce, the tofu was denser than the creamy, silky house-made tofu I've had at some Japanese restaurants (not necessarily meaning that it wasn't house-made, only that it was perhaps pressed more), and the sauce, soy-based with ginger and flecks of fresh chiles and herbs, was not so spicy. There was nothing wrong with it, only that it wasn't so ethereally delicate as other house-made tofus I've tried, nor very spicy as advertised.
Next up are some a la carte items that can be good either as shared starters or as main courses. There's much I'd like to try here, including a "bosam" (more often seen as "bo ssam") with braised, pressed pork belly and raw oysters, and jok bal, a marinated, thinly sliced pork hock served cold as a salad. But the only one I've ordered is the "soon dae," (also, somewhat dangerously, seen spelled "sundae"), a pork blood sausage. Here it's served - as appears to be common - with pork heart and stomach, in case you are trying to reassemble the pig yourself. The slightly nubby-textured sausage uses cellophane noodles as filler, and is soft and surprisingly mild. So too are the bits of pork offal, both of which were also more tender than their bovine analogues. These are served with little bowls of a spiced salt and a funky, salty fermented fish-based sauce for dipping.
The menu gets a bit confusing when it comes to the tabletop BBQ options. Gabose has tables for charcoal BBQ (in the back of the restaurant), and also tables with propane stovetop grills (toward the front). What type of table you choose directs what proteins you can choose from. At the charcoal grills there are choices of galbi (beef short rib), either boneless or bone-in, either marinated or not, plus beef tongue, chicken, shrimp or pork. At the propane-fueled BBQs, you can order beef, pork or chicken in a sweet-salty bulgogi marinade, ojingo bokkum (spicy squid), or thin-sliced beef or pork sirloin. Also, if you take one of the grill-topped tables, either charcoal or propane, you must order at least two dishes that are cooked on the grill.
Alternatively, you can always order whatever you like and have it cooked in the kitchen, but then you don't get to play with fire.
For charcoal BBQ grilling, there is a dinner-plate size opening in the middle of the table, and they bring out a bucket of glowing hot coals which slides right in. A wire grate is placed over the top, and the server brings out plates of the proteins of your choosing, the meats snipped with scissors to manageable sizes before being placed on the grill. The short ribs, sliced thin and marinated in a sauce which I'm guessing incorporates soy, sesame oil and some kochuchang in the mix, cook quickly in a couple minutes, as do the shrimp we ordered. A plate of pert, crisp lettuce leaves is also brought out, so you can eat the customary Korean way - wrapping the cooked meat, along with maybe some ssamjang and kimchee, in the lettuce leaf. It is an immensely satisfying meal, with the added fun of playing with fire.
When we sat at one of the propane-grill tables, we had beef bulgogi and the ojingo bokkum, which are cooked on a sizzling flat-top style griddle that resembles a hubcap. The bulgogi, which uses tender ribeye, gets nicely caramelized from its sweet soy marinade; and the squid, in an orange-red sauce redolent with chile, were possibly my favorite of all the items we tried, with more welcome spicy heat to the marinade.
All of the entrées come with a huge spread of banchan, little dishes of mostly pickled things, the bowls for which cover nearly the entire table. These may change from day to day, but included the customary cabbage kimchi, lightly vinegared thin strips of daikon radish, kimchi cucumbers, strips of a springy fish-cake like thing marinated in sesame oil, potatoes spiced with chile powder, wakame seaweed in a sweet vinegar, and, surprisingly, a nice refreshing Waldorf salad (!).
There's much more to explore beyond the BBQ'd meats. There are few fish and seafood BBQ items (prepared in the kitchen), several rice and noodle dishes, a selection of different hot pot cassseroles, and still another 15 or or soups, stews and other items served with steamed rice. I've only made a small dent in the rest of the menu, but we did try a dolsot bibimbap, a rice dish with a variety of julienned vegetables, bits of beef and an egg. It's traditionally cooked in a hot stone bowl (the "dolsot"), but Gabose uses a more modern thick-walled metal bowl which is blazing hot and produces a wonderful crispy crust on the edges of the rice that touch the bowl.
Making everything even more delightful are the folks who work there. Everyone who works there is warm, friendly, and helpful, always glad to make suggestions for what to order or how to eat it. It's almost the exact opposite of a white tablecloth establishment, but it is some of the best service I've experienced anywhere in South Florida.
Prices are not cheap: appetizers run in the $10-15 range, and most entrée-size items are about $15-25, with the hot pots (which are presumably for more than one person to share) in the high $30s. But the portions are pretty generous, and as a result the primary frustration is not that the prices are too high, only that with a small party you can't try more things. (To see more, check out Chadzilla's visit with Hiro-san and May of Yakko-San.) Which leads me to think that assembling a bigger group may be the best way to do Gabose. Who's in?
4991 N. University Drive, Lauderhill