Named after a neighborhood in the northern part of Seoul, Seongbukdong cooks up what could be best called Korean comfort or soul food. Emphasizing the fermented and the braised, it's the type of food that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy.
As in most places, Seongbukdong's panchan varies, but it tends to emphasize the fermented more than most places. Aside from several traditional kimchis, I've had a green variety of cabbage kimchi with nuts and a fermented shiso dish. Imagine the strong flavor shiso, fermented; it tasted like eating a winery, a not entirely pleasant experience but interesting.
Braised Mackeral is the thing to get here, a stew served in a single, large metal bowl, which looks like the inner pot from a rice cooker. A quick look at all the metal bowls around the restaurant suggests that this is one of the most popular dishes. The mackerel is cut in steaks and cooked up with onions and year-old kimchi. The strong taste of mackerel and its somewhat oily texture works well against the funk of the aged kimchi. The best part, though, is the rich red broth that you slurp up from the bottom of the pot; it's more than a soup, a kimchi jus.
The funk continues with spiced pork and bean paste casserole. This is a two part dish. The pork is a nice but unexceptional Korean BBQ pork plate, but the casserole, which is really a soup, is the stand out. I'm a big fan of doenjang, the fermented soy bean paste which is used as a condiment in many Korean dishes, and the bean paste casserole broth is the essence of doenjang, thick, rich, fermented and salty.
The best dish at Seongbukdong, though, is the spectacular steamed beef short rib. Again, the name is deceptive. This is a braised short rib in a rich, sweet jus. Served in a ceramic pot, the rib is thick cut (i.e. not the typical kalbi style cut) and as tender as any braised short rib I've had. The sweet, beefy stock encases the soft rib meat in a way that shouts that this is comfort food, rich and warm and so good that when the beef is done, you drink the sauce by the spoonful. This dish would definitely cheer me up on a melancholy day.
So good, so warm, so Seoulful.
3303 W. 6th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90020