When talking about braised meat, phrases like “melt in your mouth” and “so tender I could cut it with my spoon” shouldn't mean anything. Because of course it does and of course you could. All that's needed to make tender, melting beef/chicken/pork/goat/lamb/octopus is to leave fat and connective tissue-laden meat in simmering liquid for a long time. Presto.

But at Koreatown's Seongbukdong?

Here, galbi jjim — braised short rib — hits unbelievable highs of soy and beef. The ingredient list is surely huge but remains hidden; in the white bowl lies only chunks of short ribs, to be cut with a pair of scissors by your server, and some remaining braising liquid. So while green onion, soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine derivatives are sure bets, the others — kiwi? Asian pear? dates? — are unknown, anonymously giving depth to a deceptively simple bowl of meat.

Seongbukdon's panchan and braised mackerel are fantastic, and its servers bound about its rooms with the type of speed and force reserved for Category 4 hurricanes. But there's a reason all of your Korean friends make mention of that restaurant with short rib better — yes, better — than the homeland. Seonbukdong takes braising beyond such earthly realms.

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