March 25, 2024

50 Best and then some day 5: handsome chef, beautiful cuisine

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This was one of my most-anticipated meals for the trip. I had heard pretty positive feedback about the cuisine at Eatanic Garden, although I hadn't done too much homework to know what to expect. I did hear from Mikacina that Chef Son Jong-won is very handsome, and she had wanted the opportunity to introduce him to Kutsuyama.

Well... I'm here with Kutsuyama tonight but Chef Son is nowhere to be found. Of course, I did make the mistake of booking the restaurant on the same evening as the Chefs' Feast being held for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, and this is the time when no chef from any decent restaurant in town would be in his or her kitchen. So... Kutsuyama would have to find another opportunity to meet the handsome chef.

As I'm not here with the love of my life, I did not book Kutsuyama and I into one of the window-facing loveseats with spectacular views of the city. As I was being taken to be seated at the large, U-shaped "Chef's Table", I was greeted by that annoying yet familiar voice belong to none other than PR8.

FUCK. I have to sit through an entire dinner in close proximity to HIM?!

So, yeah... half the counter is filled by people from Hong Kong, including Juve Fan and, of course, Giona. In fact, I don't think any of the diners at the Chef's Table was local - other than my date.

As each course is served, a card is placed in front of us, with a drawing on one side, along with a blurb on the ingredient drawn that comes from a staff member.

Our welcome drink was made with birch (presumbly the bark?) as well as some "spring flowers". The flavors were, not surprisingly, very, very, very light.

I'm not a fan of restaurant wine pricing in Seoul, and I had forgotten to bring a few bottles from home, so I chose something from the wine list that didn't cost an arm and a leg...

2020 Michel Redde Blanc Fumé de Pouilly Barre à Mine - this was an easy-drinking wine, soft on the palate. The nose was nice and fragrant, but not overpowering.

Bamboo shoots (죽순) - this was mieum (미음) made with rice, milk, and topped with thin slices of bamboo shoots. There was a light amount of charring on the bamboo shoots.

Jujeonburi (주전부리) - there is a series of 4 snacks, starting with a gaesung jooak (개성 주악) topped with a disc made of 18-month Comté and karasumi (唐墨), with a cute pattern showing the moon rabbit (달토끼). I'd love any kind of donut, especially one that comes with a topping of those two ingredients.

Crispy tart with japchae (잡채) - topped with strips of zucchini, carrot, and mushroom. Very nice and crunchy, and very tasty.

Crispy potato snack with yukhoe (육회) - some diced potatoes here in the crunchy tart, topped with spring greens. Flavors were pretty good.

Parae seaweed bugak (파래김 부각) - made into a origami crane and sat on top of a paste decorated with petals. The seaweed was crunchy while the paste was sweet and tasted of some peanuts.

Fatsia shoots (두릅) - a dish that came in two parts, the first being naengchae (냉채), where blanched and pickled fatsia / aralia shoots were julienned and served with cuttlefish and pear, along with cooked shrimp underneath and pine nut sauce on the side.

The fatsia shoots were deep-fried with shrimp paste, and meant to be paired with the makgeolli (막걸리).

Makgeolli - a tiny bit of fizz, not too sweet, with nice fruity acidity here.

Soy bean (콩) - the tofu was made with 'smoked soy water' and 'smoked bean sprouts', topped with a disc of egg white and caviar (and gold!)

We were then presented with some beluga (?) caviar...

This came on top of a snack called gangjeong (강정) which had very strong flavors from the dried shrimp, with savory flavors but sticky and candy-like at the same time thanks to some almonds. Loved this.

Tomato (토마토) - the roll was made with layers of cabbage kimchi fermented in corvina broth on the outside, stuffed with tomato, octopus, sea cucumber, and flounder. Thanks to the serving temperature, this was really nice and refreshing. Varying textures thanks to the different stuffing, and the tomato was really nice along with a little perilla. There was a little kick here to the fish, but not enough to be overpowering.

On the side we also had some geotjeori (겉절이) - fresh kimchi made without fermentation - with tomato and flounder.

Spring greens (봄나물) - with convict grouper / neungseong-eo (능성어) that has been grilled over charcoal, barley rice mixed with doenjang, and stuffed with 5 different types of spring greens including jicama.

We also had doenjang-guk (된장국) on the side, which was pretty thick and tasted pretty heavy.

Samgyetang (삼계탕) - it's not surprising that many Korean restaurants serve up their own version of this classic dish, as it's familiar to both locals as well as foreigners. The skin was thin and crispy, and the stuffing of glutinous rice, ginseng, garlic, ginkgo nuts, jujube, and chestnut were pretty nice. One could taste the ginseng but it wasn't overpowering and kicking your teeth in.

This "tea" was served in lieu of the usual soup of the samgyetang, made by boiling ginseng and chicken broth. Not sure how this is supposed to be different, then... I do have to say, though, that this was nice and thick.

Taro (토란) - make no mistake, this is a meat dish and not a vegetarian dish. We've got two different servings of Hanwoo.

Tteokgalbi (떡갈비) had really good flavors. This was really tasty.

This was a millefeuille of beef with abalone and bone marrow, and I gotta say I really loved this. It was a very creative dish, and I loved the spring texture of the abalone sandwiched between layers of beef.

On the side we had a small serving of geotjeori (겉절이) made with spring cabbage and taro.

I had chosen not to take the wine pairing with our dinner, but Super Somm was kind enough to pour us a glass of red to go with our beef. This is the newest offering from the team at Lafite-Rothschild, and only its second vintage.

2019 Anseillan - very ripe and sweet, with plenty of vanilla oak on the nose.

Yuchae (유채) - bibim-guksu (비빔국수) with yellow rapeseed flowers and rapeseed greens.

Taken by mixing everything together. This wasn't really spicy, though, like the standard bibim-guksu, but it had a good amount of acidity from the fermented juice.

Later on we were given some dongchimi (동치미) ice on top of the noodles. This made it even more refreshing and enjoyable.

Strawberry (딸기) - first we have yugwa (유과) with strawberry powder.

This was followed by sikhye (식혜), which is a drink I love very much. This, too, came with strawberries.

Mugwort (쑥) - mugwort is mixed with glutinous rice powder and yuja (유자) zest, then steamed to make ssukbeomuri (쑥버무리), a seasonal snack during springtime.

We also had mugwort ice cream along with a glutinous rice cake on top.

Mother-of-pearl box (자개함) - finally, the petits fours were presented in this lovely box.

Omijacha (오미자차) - with nice acidity, and a little grippy on the palate.

Ganache with wild sesame seeds - crunchy inside.

Chocolate bon bon with Haechang makgeolli

Pâté de fruit with apple and mustard leaf

Yakgwa (약과) - made with ginger but the flavors weren't very strong. Deep-frying made it a little greasy.

Bell flower root candy - made with doraji (도라지)

Dried persimmon with nuts and yuja skin

As it turned out, the handsome chef was in the house tonight, and he ended up giving us a tour of the different outlets within the Josun Palace hotel. Kutsuyama even got to take pictures with him, which certainly put a smile on her face.

There was a party being hosted jointly by Chef Tam and Chef Ton at a bar, so all of us hopped into taxis that Chef Son ordered for us. When we arrived, though, the place was a total mad house. I think 80% of the 50 Best crowd was there, or trying to get in. The bar had at least 5 times the official allowed capacity in the house that the Man in White T-shirt joked that this was a fire marshall's nightmare. He wasn't wrong.

I greeted Chef Tam when he came out of the small kitchen with this oyster omelet. I took a bite and decided that this was not a place I wanted to stick around long... So a few of us escaped and went back to our hotels.

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