Gabose is a restaurant where you really don't want to pass out face-first at the table. And it's a place where your grilled shrimp might turn out overcooked, but you'll have nobody to blame but yourself. That's because the centerpieces of the prized back tables at Gabose Korean and Japanese Restaurant are sizzling charcoal grills, inserted dramatically and with a frisson of danger in the middle of meals, into holes cut in the middle of tables.
On the bright side, if your grilled short rib turns out too rare, you can always throw it back on the grill for another minute, letting it absorb the sweet smoke from the oak embers until your personal perfection is achieved. It's a lot of fun, and a great place for pyros, groups and older children, who'll want to try their hand at manning the mini-barbecue and flipping the charred proteins with tongs that are provided.
For those who aren't into do-it-yourself cooking, Gabose sizzles in other ways. There are fiery hot soups brimming with housemade noodles and gochujang, the addictive Korean red chili paste. And there are gorgeous dolsot bibimbabs, the crunchy Korean rice dish with vegetables and meats, topped with a fried egg and served in a hot stone pot.
The live charcoal grills are a rare find in South Florida — most other Korean barbecue restaurants feature propane or electric grills — which probably explains why Gabose is still going strong after nearly 15 years. There is often a wait for the seven back tables (most with six seats), each equipped with retractable overhanging vents that keep smoke from filling the room. We got to the restaurant early on a recent weekend night because Gabose doesn't take reservations. There is also a tamer front room, where DIY cooking is done on portable propane stoves. A full menu of Korean and Japanese items is available in both rooms. But to get the full Gabose experience, you'll want to head for the back, where a minimum order of two grill items is required.
Eun Suk Hong and husband James opened Gabose in early 2002, and now their daughter, Susan Kim, and her husband, Fred, are involved. Two years ago, the family launched a trendier offshoot, Gabose Pocha, featuring karaoke, cocktails and live seafood dishes, across the parking lot in a Lauderhill strip mall. The original Gabose offers well-worn comfort and familiarity. Hong still sells Asian cosmetics and beauty products from the front counter. There's no full liquor license, just beer, wine, sake and soju, and regulars bring in their own wine bottles (the corkage fee is a reasonable $10).
The Korean food is the star here, distinct and flavorful enough to compensate for a plain, utilitarian setting that could use some updating, including the men's room. Service is friendly, with servers and managers walking first-time guests through the basics of cooking Korean barbecue, but inconsistent. Water glasses were filled attentively, but some empty dishes lingered. We asked to box up some leftover appetizers, but they were discarded instead.
Some diners may take issue with prices that are a bit high for a central Broward Asian restaurant (in the mid-to-upper $20 range for the raw and marinated DIY items), but I didn't have a problem with the value. The quality and portion sizes were good, and a fun part of the Korean barbecue experience is a barrage of panchan, a dozen little side dishes that envelop the table with the entrees. There are pickled vegetables and spicy cabbage (kimchee), along with sticky white rice and a Korean version of potato salad. There's also lettuce leaf, a cool covering for the blistered meat when it comes off the grill.
Our table started with goon mandu ($10.95), pan-fried dumplings stuffed with meat and cabbage that were tasty and just a bit greasy, and gamja jun ($10.95), a potato, zucchini and carrot pancake with a strangely pleasant gelatinous texture. We also had ge chigae ($13.95), a spicy blue crab soup with zucchini and cabbage. You have to get sloppy to extract the crab meat from the shells and body parts broken up in the soup, but the broth was briny and piquant, like slurping the Atlantic spiked with gochujang. I loved it. We also had tangsuyuk pork ($20.95), fried flour-coated strips of dark meat covered with vegetables and a sticky sweet sauce that wasn't overbearing.
After the grill was inserted, we got to work on galbi gui ($26.95), beef rib marinated in soy sauce, garlic and ginger barbecue sauce. We snipped thin slices with a scissors, then saved the beefy bones for last. We also scattered some shrimp ($26.95) and baby octopus ($22.95) around the grill. The octopus was coated in a spicy red chili marinade, which caramelized nicely. All that protein went well with the crunchy rice from a vegetarian dolsot bibimbab ($12.95), and an order of the champong ($13.95), housemade noodles swimming in a spicy seafood broth with mussels, squid and octopus.
The biggest letdown came at the end. The signature dessert of shaved Korean ice and cream, pat bing soo, was not available. But we were happy with an "exotic bomba" ($6.95) of mango, passion fruit and raspberry sorbet in a white chocolate shell, and a pear tartlet ($8.95) with crisp puff pastry and almond cream surrounded by bubbling raspberry sauce in a sizzling hot dish. The tartlet was a fitting finish. Even when the scorching charcoal and hot gochujang were gone, Gabose still packed heat that could burn.
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Gabose Korean and Japanese Restaurant
4991 N. University Dr, Lauderhill
Cuisine: Korean and Japanese with tableside barbecue grills,
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 1-10 p.m. Sunday.
Credit cards: All major.
Bar: Beer, wine, sake and soju.
Sound level: Conversational.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes.
Parking: Free lot.