Star Chef

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Star Chef

By Dan Gray

After tasting the dishes that the chef Kim Ho-Nam presented, my date remarked, “I can’t believe I’m in Korea.” Sure, it is a tad pessimistic, but I understood where the sentiment came from.

When I think of Korean fusion food, I think of the recent Korean hit action flick, “The Good, The Bad, and The Weird.” Often these three elements are on the same plate. There is something good, something bad, and one fusion element that’s just weird. The absurd combinations at the various omelet rice restaurants (Omoto Tomato) are testament to this fact. Fusion has gotten a bad rap on this tourniqueted peninsula.

If it weren’t for Andrew Zimmern, the host of the American TV show “Bizarre Foods,” I wouldn’t have ever discovered this restaurant. Andrew needed a chef and this chef’s name came popping up. And then my foodie brother Zenkimchi (Joe McPherson webmaster of the very popular food blog, www.zenkimchi.com) went to the restaurant and gave it rave reviews. I was eager to give fusion food another shot.

Star Chef (yes, the name is a bit tacky but this adds to it’s charm) is located down by Maebong station exit 4. Make a left at the first corner at “Lucky Pharmacy,” and then the next right. When you see the GS 25, make a left into the alley across from it. Star Chef is to the right. And it is housed in a fairly unassuming little brick lined restaurant with an open window and a massive rack full of Bombay sapphire. The restaurant has an open kitchen where you can see the chef at play.

The atmosphere is my only real complaint. This is a businessman’s bar, so it is a bit dark and seedy; however, it doesn’t stop the various other patrons such as women and university students from stopping in. When I went to eat, in the back were tables of businessmen drinking bottles of gin and on the patio it looked like a young couple having a date. And seated next to me were an older couple simply enjoying a light meal. Obviously, they come for the food, not the atmosphere.

We started the meal with a steamed broccoli salad topped with the crispiest glazed garlic slices I have ever had. The broccoli was service and it made a strong first impression. The statement it was making was, “this is not just any regular restaurant.” Initially, I thought the garlic bits were shallots and then bacon bits. The garlic bits were so good that I would have loved an entire bag to munch on. They are much better than M & M’s.

Then the beef salad arrived. It was a monstrous salad that could have easily been the entire meal. Keep in mind this salad was to accompany a bottle of liquor. The salad was topped with a variety of grilled mushrooms and thinly sliced succulent medium rare beef. There was romaine lettuce skimpily dressed in balsamic vinegar and dusted with Parmesan cheese. There were paper-thin red onions, Korean hot chili peppers, cilantro, and jalapeños. The salad might be too spicy for the fearful. The flavors all melded, fused, together in a symphony of different flavors and textures.

And then the mid course, seafood spaghetti, came out. It was beautifully piled up like a lock of fine hair atop the crown of a beautiful maiden. The seafood and clams were fresh and looked like they were arranged like fine barrettes. The sauce had the taste of fresh basil and the sea. Korea is a country that loves pasta, but often they can’t get it right. Star Chef’s pasta would make an Italian sit up and pay attention.

And finally, the fish. It was a whole mullet that was deep-fried, Chinese style, and served in a bowl with fresh cilantro, ginger, and red onions. The cilantro tasted like the sun and the thinly sliced red onions were like the sky. The ginger made a lofty earth presence. The sauce the fish waded in tasted like a tart Japanese citrus ponzo sauce. The herbaceous accents of the cilantro, the sweetness of the onions, the earthy spark of the ginger, and the savory flavor of the fish all fused beautifully. It was zen. It was delicious. I couldn’t believe it.

This is a chef that truly understands flavors and has love for what he does. I recommend you make it down to Maebang for a meal soon.

Plates Range from 16,000-38,000 won
Wines start at 39,000 won

Maebang Station Exit 4
Seoul, Gangnam-gu, Dogok-dong 417-2
02-529-8248
Hours 4-12pm. Closed Monday.

Directions: Maebang Station on the Orange Line, Line 3. Go out exit 4 and make the first left and the next right. Turn into the alley across from GS25. Star Chef will be on your right.

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