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Jae Bu Do may seem a bit extreme the first time you visit. It is the one restaurant in its mini-mall without a hint of an English-language sign, and you'll probably linger in the doorway for a while before somebody points you to a table. You study posters on the wall picturing crab, squid and hagfish - hagfish! - that you bravely attempt to order, and you are instead handed a menu whose options are limited to combinations A, B or C, which vary more in size than they do in content. You will have gotten drinks (and may God be with you if you end up with the house's bottled dong dong ju, which tastes like what might be left over from a bowlful of sake-moistened Frosted Flakes), eaten a crisp scallion pancake and perhaps a fried smelt, and watched a mass of beaten egg pulse like a lava lamp in its superheated stone bowl. You may have actually Googled "hagfish" on your cell phone, and recoiled when you find it described as the slimiest creature in the sea. You will be handed a single white glove, which you will resist putting on until you look around the restaurant and see a roomful of Michael Jacksons. A waitress comes over to the table and scatters Manila clams across the hot wire grill. Your job is to pick them up at just the moment the shells pop open, tug out the meat and dip it in a bit of the chile sauce called gochujang. (This is where the glove comes in handy.) Tiny, sweet scallops on the half-shell seethe in juices and butter. Tiny, brothy sea snails simmer in a cup fashioned from aluminum foil. Clam innards boil in what looks like a Sierra cup. Large clamshells sizzle until the waitress comes by to wrench them apart, shortly before she pries open gigantic oysters, the size of Air Jordans, and scissors apart the fist-size meats. Whole prawns nestle on the grill - when they start to blacken, they're done - next to langoustines, which will not make you forget the ocean-fresh examples you may have tasted at Taillevent or Ducasse. If you have ordered one of the pricier dinners, there will be chewy bits of abalone sizzled in their shells, and maybe more scallops sliced into spicy broth. Toward the end, a few tiny octopuses make it onto the grill. If you don't fish them off within a minute or two, they will have died in vain.
View more photos in Anne Fishbein's slideshow, "Jae Bu Do: Koreatown's Extreme Seafood Grill." Some restaurants you leave smiling. Other restaurants you leave burning with the fury of a thousand suns. But after an evening at Jae Bu Do, a seafood... More »
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