Manbok Korean Seafood Restaurant

We fancy ourselves worldly and open-minded, adventurous even, when it comes to different cuisines. From scorpion to pig brains, we seldom shy away from house specialties.

Which is how we came to discover “hongeo samhap” at Manbok. Our extremely friendly and patient waitress wasn’t able to explain the dish in English, but she did try—numerous times—to talk us out of ordering it. Smarter people would have taken the hint(s). Manbok’s hongeo samhap ($65) looks harmless enough. A pile of cabbage leaf kimchi flanked by a pretty arrangement of sliced steamed pork and what looks like sliced fish, sashimi-like. You take a piece of each meat, then wrap it in kimchi, dip it in sauce. Only that “fish” is thornback ray (aka “skate”) and it’s not raw but “fermented.” What you get is a tough and unappetizing texture and the overpowering smell of ammonia, which results from the ray’s uric acid (aka “ray piss”). The experience is much like eating a piece of rubber slathered with industrial-strength hair bleach.

Fortunately, not everything on the menu is so challenging. Their seafood soup ($50) was a treasure trove of fresh crab, prawns, a whole octopus, abalone, scallops, clams, rice cakes, mushrooms, carrots and onions, all swimming in a slightly spiced, almost addictive broth. Their seafood pancake with leeks, prawns and octopus ($20) is also a sure bet, especially after dipping it into spicy sauce. And we can’t say enough about Manbok’s procession of side dishes (we counted at least 10), including shredded cabbage salad with cucumbers and potato mash with raisins and hardboiled egg white pieces mixed in, topped with a snow of crumbed egg yolk.

The service is sincere and hospitable, the décor simple but clean and bright, and the food prepared (and served) with passion—this is one of the best and most interesting options for Korean food in the city.