"And you're turning 47, right?" Tom had texted earlier in the day. He seemed intent on knowing the exact number, so I already knew something was up.
Tom and I met in front of the famous Burger King in the Jongno district—the one not far from Pagoda Park, which sits at the big intersection with Insa-dong. He had said he wanted to treat me to a galmaegi-sal dinner (grilled pork)* at the new, refurbished Seorae, which used to be our favorite galmaegi restaurant before it got demolished. We walked over to an unfamiliar restaurant at which an old woman was standing out front like some kind of crier, loudly beseeching passersby to come on in. "This is Seorae?" I asked, confused. Tom said that, even though the name seemed to have changed, it was the same Seorae.
We went in, got seated, ordered a 500-gram plate of pork (which we both knew wouldn't be enough; another round was ordered later), then waited for the spectacle. Within a few moments, servers were bringing us the side dishes, then a man approached with a hotly burning bowl of charcoal, which he placed inside the recess that had been built into the table. A mandolin-style** grill was placed over the coals, and then the meat arrived.
I saw why Tom had wanted to know whether I was turning 47: he pulled out a pair of candles—one in the shape of a "4," the other in the shape of a "7," and stuck them inside the meat to create a raw-pork "cake." "Hurry up! The wax is getting on the meat!" he insisted, urging me to blow out the candles. Conversation with Tom is always Freudian, so there was much chortling at "blow" and "waxing the meat."
Tom gets the "cake" ready:
Tom presents me my cake:
Below, the meat is cooking. The giant tube is meant to be brought low to the grill to suck away all the stray smoke. It doesn't work very well.
A shot of the restaurant's sign outside, which very distinctly does not say "Seorae" on it, thus leading to my confusion:
A shot of the menu, also sitting outside:
As we were heading out, Tom dashed back in and got a business card. "See? I knew this was Seorae!" he said. The card distinctly said "Seorae" on it, meaning this restaurant was less a resurrection and more a reincarnation:
We walked two doors over to the Baskin Robbins, that fluffy little house of pink spoons. Tom's love of ice cream trumps his fear of appearing unmanly, so Baskin Robbins has been our post-Seorae tradition since we began eating at Seorae.
All in all, a great little birthday party. I'm not a fan of huge bashes, but quiet little meet-ups (meat-ups?) like this suit me just fine. Both the pork and the ice cream were Tom's treat. I rode home feeling quite replete in body and soul.
*The word galmaegi can mean "seagull," but in this case, the word is a homograph and homophone with a completely different meaning, like "plane" meaning "airplane" or "plane" meaning "woodworker's tool"; see here.
**The pasta-making device is also called a chitarra ("guitar"); for more on calling this a mandolin (or mandoline in French), see here.