Thursday, June 3, 2010

Korean BBQ Pork Belly at Bobo's

Bobo's was at the top of my list before I ever went there. If there's one international pork adventure I wish I'd snatched up when I had the chance, it's the BBQ pork belly I missed out on in Seoul in 2005. I've been to a handful of Korean BBQ places in the US, including a higher end New York joint, and nothing has come close to what I had at Bobo's, an unassuming restaurant that has lived right across the street from my favorite Brazilian joint for quite some time, unbeknownst to me. I will have to make it out the Northeast twice as frequently since discovering it.

The Korean obsession with side dishes is right up my alley, especially when one of them is soju. Ben, our Korean boy, made sure the bottles of sweet rice vodka made it to our table before the food. Shortly after our first shot, tiny plates bearing cocktails of vegetables, pickles, and sauces began arriving. As we were sampling each little miracle, the main event arrived; a plate piled high with pork belly. A small drawback was that we were working with frozen meat here. The proprietor apologized for the inconvenience, but it turned to to be a non issue. She did the bulk of the grilling for us, and we tossed our condiments into the heat pit.

On my first lettuce bomb, I piled a slice of pork belly, an impossibly thin slice of pickled daikon, some grilled kimchi, a clove of garlic also from the grill, and another slice of pork belly for good measure, topped with a dab of sesame oil and sweet miso sauce. I balled it up and devoured it in one bite. As usual, I made it too big and had to sit there with my gaze fixed on nothing, concentrating hard to break down the food ball. In that 30 seconds or so, every flavor makes itself apparent, dances with the others, and slowly becomes lost in the euphoric feeling immediately following victory over the challenge of chewing one of these guys. It is one of the most satisfying flavor combinations I've ever had, whether pork is in the mix or not.

This pork belly was a little more rubbery than I prefer in barbecue, but the texture did its job of the being the meat in the situation. The other elements are soft or slightly crunchy, and make for perfect layers encasing the meat. Ben advised me that each lettuce bomb should comprise a different combination of side dishes, making each one a unique set of flavors. Turns out the simple combos each have a charm of their own. My personal simple favorite was pork belly, grilled kimchi, and sesame oil.

I was surprised as to how empty and quiet Bobo's was on this warm weeknight, and I'd love to see their business bumping a little more, so I'm giving my highest recommendation of 5 pig heads.

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