The beef tongue arrives raw and slivered, its flesh marbled with strips of fat. You cook it on a wire grate over charcoal, which burns crimson in a pit on your table. In seconds, the meat turns from pink and slick to charred and shriveled. "It's too hot," exclaims the waitress at Gabose in Lauderhill.
But this unruly fire enhances the beef's flavor. It's delicious -- rich, toasted, smoky, and fragrant with a salt-and-pepper-infused sesame oil.
Gabose is among the few Korean restaurants in South Florida that allow guests to cook with charcoal indoors. Other spots, such as Sushi Cafe & Shilla Korean Restaurant in Miami, supply customers with electric and gas grills. And that is just nowhere near as fun.
Surrounding the tabletop fire pit, there's a second attraction: more than ten white bowls containing "banchan." These are appetizers, condiments, and side dishes. Each dish holds something different: fiery potatoes, marinated seaweed, fish cakes, stir-fried mushrooms, or a variety of pickles -- cucumber, turnip, and cabbage. Some are sloshed in a nose-tickling chili paste. Others taste like a funky brine, bursting with ginger, spice, and garlic.
You stack hunks of barbecued beef in lettuce leaves and layer them with banchan selections like fermented soybean paste, chili paste, or kimchi -- a spicy, pickled green cabbage that's also Korea's national dish. In this unassuming sandwich, textures and flavors collide. Cold, preserved vegetables meld with warm, succulent meat.
It practically embodies the spirit of Korean cuisine, a cookery obsessed with freshness, temperature, and conservation. Its methods are rooted in necessity. In Seoul, summers are temperate and lush, but winters are frigid and severe. Finishing a dish at the table ensures warmth. Pickling allows fresh vegetables to be available year-round.
Served alongside every main dish, the banchan are some of Gabose's greatest lures. But at this family-owned restaurant, which has been open for more than a decade -- and is recognized as one of Miami chef Michelle Bernstein's favorites -- the barbecue pits draw even more attention. Make the trek to Lauderhill on a Friday night and if you haven't reserved a place, you might face an hour wait for the prized seats in the backroom.
Once you make it to this room, though, smoke lingers in the air and bulky air extractors hang over the seven polished tables. Customers must order a minimum of two barbecued meats: beef, shrimp, chicken, or pork. Boneless short ribs, cut into two-inch strips and marinated in a sweet soy-based sauce, blacken quickly over the flames. Their dressing encourages caramelization, which also adds depth and earthiness. With kimchi, they taste wonderful when enveloped in greens.
At the front of the restaurant, guests can pick from a selection of rice, noodle, soup, or stove-top barbecue preparations. It may not involve fire, but Gabose's dolsot bibimbap is among its most successful offerings. Inside a hefty hot pot, white rice rests below carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, nori, raw egg, and a chili paste called gochujang. When the scorching vessel arrives at your table, you mix it together. The blast of heat cooks the egg and unfetters an intense aroma of sesame oil. Near the pot's edges, the rice becomes golden and crisp.
And best of all? Although it's large enough to feed two, this dish costs only $12.95.
Throughout the dining room, you might hear a mishmash of Korean and English. But above this flutter of barbecue and languages, you will also catch the sound of bubbling soup. Gabose's broths are deep, intense, and aggressive. Daeji tofu jjigae features a piquant red broth that's laced with house-made tofu and pork. Cut into thick rectangles, the tofu boasts a texture more butter than soy. Sliced thinly, the meat still bears wide bands of fat. The surrounding liquid simmers in a hot pot, one that's perfumed with chilies, ginger, garlic, and scallions. It's among the restaurant's most popular soups. It can also treat a cold better than any chicken noodle soup.
Today, a number of Korean spots surround Gabose, such as Manna and Republic of Korea. Still, Gabose's customers remain loyal. They make pilgrimages from as far as Miami and West Palm Beach to taste its fabled pickles, barbecue, and soups.
There are several other reasons to return to this small Lauderhill restaurant, which pioneered Korean cuisine in this predominantly Jamaican neighborhood. There are potato pancakes -- plate-sized and flecked generously with scallions. There are dumplings, fried pork hunks, buckwheat noodles in broth, and cod fish hot pot casseroles too. The place, located a few minutes from downtown Fort Lauderdale, may be far from Miami. But it's well worth the trip.
Sure, some new customers might also be drawn in by the Japanese section of the menu. But no one here seems interested in sashimi or sushi rolls. Perhaps they're too distracted by the sight of fire and the sweet subtle aroma of smoke.
Gabose, 4491 N. University Drive, Lauderhill; 954-572-4800; lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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