With tea kettles hanging from the roof, windowboxes filled with sea shells, and a dark wooden interior plastered with white business cards, Boh Deul Gol is a whimsical little shellfish shack that stands out from the many other restaurants crowding the back alley of Itaewon in which it's located.
I accidentally arrived extra early to meet friends on Saturday night, but the miscalculation worked to our advantage because there was a long wait for the next available table. While I waited, a friendly server brought me shikkhye (a sweetened rice drink) and Korean cookies, and I watched the colorful Saturday night crowd parade past. About thirty minutes later, a table opened up just as my friends were arriving.
We started off with the tender, perfectly grilled fish with sea salt that comes complimentary with every meal.
This part goes much more smoothly if at least one member of your party has impressive de-boning skills. Thank you, Summer.
Soon afterward, our waiter arrived to take our order; in fact, our vigilant servers anticipated our every move throughout the night. We ordered the grilled scallops first, and when the plate arrived, we all cooed in awe. The vivid red dollop of sauce, white sliver of garlic, and green slice of pepper made the scallops look like dots from a Chuck Close painting, and to top it off, this already spectacular plate was garnished with pansies.
By this point, I was so charmed by this pub's attention to detail that I was worried the food itself might be a let-down. As it happened, the scallops were incredible. The spicy red sauce was slightly sweet and the garlic was incredibly potent, yet miraculously, the combination of these two things complemented the scallops instead of overwhelming them. The garlic was so concentrated that it actually tasted spicy, and I have to admit that for fear of overkill I skipped the green pepper on top.
The scallops were so delicious that they required a satisfied sigh or small declaration of love after each bite, and I wasn't the only one sighing and making the declarations. In an obvious effort to test the strength of friendships, Boh Deul Gol serves an odd number of scallops. Fortunately, we called on a bit of Korean kid wisdom and decided "rock-scissors-paper" was the only fair way to dole out the final scallop. Jenn, whose skills at the game are constantly honed thanks to her work as a sixth grade teacher, was the lucky victor.
At this point we trusted the place enough to order raw oysters, but we were disappointed to learn that none of the considerable raw menu was available because it wasn't the right season for it. We went with the grilled shrimp instead, which were served on a bed of salt.
These were the night's one disappointment; the aluminum foil and salt retained serious heat, which burnt our hands and overcooked the shrimp. They were just fine, but after having broken through the clouds with the unbelievable scallops, "just fine" was enough to make us thud back to earth.
It was time for some carbohydrates to soak up the makgeolli we'd been drinking and provide the more substantial dinner we needed. We ordered the noodle dish with conch and vegetables, which turned out to be another piece of art.
The crisp vegetables made the whole meal taste bright and fresh, and the dish was studded with the ideal amount of slightly chewy snails. The sauce had that slow burning heat that fools you into thinking it's not all that spicy at first, but ultimately leaves you sweating. The mediocrity of the shrimp was forgiven with this final triumph.
To get to Boh Deul Gol from the Itaewon subway station, walk down the street across from the Hamilton Hotel and take the first alley on your right. It will be about 20 meters past the Wolf Hound on the right side.
Thank you to Summer for the first picture and Jenn for the last.