If I didn't have friends to guide me while eating a late dinner at Gahm Mi Oak, I wouldn't have known what to do when faced with the giant bowl of seolleongtang. Gahm Mi Oak is known for this traditional Korean dish of ox bone-based broth filled with thin slices of beef brisket, noodles, and rice; you can see the giant soup vats where bones simmer for hours in the back of the restaurant. It's served unsalted, hence the pot of salt on every table. Not used to salting my own food aside from the rare judicious sprinkle from a salt shaker, I felt a bit uneasy wielding a heaping spoonful of sodium that could potentially ruin my dish. "You'll need more," one friend said. "Maybe you should taste it first," said the other. After putting in a few spoonfuls, I tasted the broth; it needed more salt.
When I finally found the right salt ratio, I was rewarded with a slightly rich broth unlike any other beef broth I've had. The milky soup, while bland without salt, had a minerally and meaty flavor that came out with the salt. The additional chopped scallions added some crunch and mild onion flavor. It may have been better on a cold winter's night, but it was perfectly satisfying during that mild summer's night.
Besides the seolleongtang, I'd also go back to Gahm Mi Oak for their spicy radish kimchi that they cut into pieces at your table, straight out of the pot. I couldn't specifically tell you what was special about that kimchi, but considering it made me realize that I really like kimchi after having recently spent a week eating loads of it in South Korea without any sort of kimchi epiphany, I hope that's enough proof of its tastiness. Or maybe I was just really hungry. I'll confirm after making my second trip.
And if you're worried about whether or not you'll be able to freshen your ox broth-and-scallion breath with gum, have no fear; they give you gum at the end of your meal. I can't tell you what makes it charming though.
Gahm Mi Oak
43 W 32nd St, New York NY 10001 (b/n 5th and Broadway; map)