Gaaboseh Korean Café
6019 Rittiman Plaza
Under the radar for most of us, a Little Korea seems to have been developing along Rittiman Road from I-35 to Harry Wurzbach. Its foundations are at the western end with long-established places like Koreana, but the most recent evolution is closest to 35 in the vicinity of the now-veteran Go Hyang Jib. One of the newest entries into the café competition began as an Asian grocery store but recently morphed into a dining establishment with a little residual, mostly-Korean merchandise.
You won’t go to Gaaboseh for the Home Depot décor (it’s paneled and plain in the extreme) or jars of house-made kimchee (there are none). It’s likely you won’t remember the name, either. But you may recall the $7.99 Lunch Box specials. The bento-box-style presentation is certainly impressive, and there’s no denying that you get your money’s worth in sheer quantity. Of course, if you’re determined to pick each component of the compartmentalized container apart, the score may drop slightly. There are some pan-chan-like servings — pickled, shredded daikon and mung bean sprouts among them. You get an OK iceberg-based salad with broccoli and a sesame dressing; there are a couple of pieces of mostly vegetable maki (burdock root seemed to be part of the equation); and there’s a pair of fried mandu (dumplings) — also mostly veg-based and seemingly house-made. Oh, I almost forgot the macaroni salad (no, I don’t think Korea invented it). A curious but oddly interesting cold soup with wisps of kimchee precedes the box.
The main ingredient, however, is a choice of L.A.-style ribs, and either pork or beef bulgogi. The cross-cut ribs are good, but I wouldn’t go very far out of my way for them; the beef bulgogi gets points for being very tender and not too sweet; the pork, according to a culinary confidant, is the best of the three due precisely to a sweetness that better suits that meat.
If the above seemed less than wildly effusive, well, that’s the way it often goes. But I can get excited over the hot kimchee soup I tried on a return visit. Part of this has to do with an affinity for things sour and spicy, but there was also plenty to like in the mix besides the pickled napa cabbage: pork belly, a little sliced fish cake, slabs of silky tofu, and a killer broth that was worth draining the bowl for. The array of pan chan that appeared first was perhaps less impressive than that served at some other Korean places in the emerging ’hood, but the warm sautéed mushrooms with onion and bell pepper were unique, the crisp chili-sauced pickle was a winner, and the kimchee revealed a faint fish flavor in this pure form. Besides, the shy but attentive waitress almost insisted I get a refill. So I did. On a few.
There are other dishes to be tried at Gaaboseh, a bean paste soup and a hot version of bi bim bap, for example, so this modest café will be added to the rotation of Korean restaurants encouraging the continued exploration of this rising cuisine. Stay tuned.