Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bates Takes: Hold the Gnocchi at Sortino's

Hold the Gnocchi

Written and Photographed by Jonathan Bates

My friend invited my partner and I to her birthday this past weekend, which was to be held at an Italian restaurant named Sortino’s. Needless to say that I was less than excited when she told me it was in Itaewon as it not being my favorite area and offering little more than overpriced and mediocre-grade “western” restaurants among other things. Nevertheless, we put on our winter gear and hit the streets of Itaewon, eager for some good Italian food.

I must confess that I was doubtful of having truly great, let alone good, Italian food in Korea as I was raised in a house with my grandparents who were “Off-the-boat” Italians. I knew that my friend had good taste and a knack for the finer things in life so I was hopeful that she wouldn’t steer a group of festive partygoers into utter disaster. She didn’t.

Getting to the restaurant (which we found with ease), we told the hostess we were with “Harry Potter” (yes, my friend has a good sense of humor). The hostess offered to take our coats and we were seated right away with our party.

The entrance of the old dark-wooded stairs leading up and into the restaurant sets the tone of the restaurant immediately – rustic with a touch of elegance. The restaurant is warm and the walls are splashed in the color of classic Italian-villa stucco. Along the entire length of the restaurant runs windows overlooking the main street in Itaewon and the opposite wall plays host to a bar on one end and a giant mural of a farm vista on the other. At the end of the restaurant is the kitchen, where you can see their iconic firebrick oven and the chefs working. Wine racks and shelves sprinkle the restaurant making it feel homey and comfortable. The lights are lit perfectly as to give you and your dining companions the perfect intimate ambiance.

Looking at the menu, it’s not hard to become overwhelmed. Being at around 10 pages excluding the extensive wine list, there was everything from appetizers to risotto and pasta to fish, meat, and poultry even to season specials. If pizza is what you desire, no need to worry as they serve that as well. Vegetarians take note! They cater to you too with a plethora of dishes. I was drawn to many dishes, as it had been over 8 months since I had had any of these delicacies. I finally settled on the gnocchi dish while my partner went the safe route and got a spinach and sausage pizza. Other partygoers chose dishes such as the lasagna and spaghetti marinara with meatballs.

While waiting for our food we were brought fresh bread and a balsamic/olive oil mixture for dipping as well as our wine. The service was impeccable as they kept bringing more bread and refilling the water glasses without notice.

Finally the food came and everything looked amazing. Everyone was so hungry and eagerly began eating. Everyone was silent for the first few minutes, which as everyone knows, means that it’s good. The pizza and lasagna were very large and I’m convinced that the pizza alone could feed two if you ordered a salad with it. The other pasta dishes were quite small and I was left wondering how they advertise themselves as authentically Italian, especially since the Italians I grew up with were always ready to load your plate to the point of nausea. Nevertheless, everyone loved his or her dishes – that was clear – except for me. I was expecting gnocchi and what I got were six corn cakes bathing in a delicious cream sauce. Though delicious, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. (I thought that maybe this was a different version of gnocchi from a different part of Italy however after some research I found that my understanding of gnocchi was correct. Apparently, the chefs of Sortino’s just have a different take on the dish.) Needless to say I was disappointed. However, the rest of the meal went off without a hitch and everyone had a really great time, especially the birthday girl.

This is the perfect restaurant to go on a date or to bring guests to when they visit Korea. The ambiance coupled with the quality of service and the dishes make this a great choice. The only draw back is that it will put a dent in your wallet. Appetizers will run you a nice 8-38,000 won, risotto and pasta 16-35,000, fish and meat entrees 32-82,000, season specials 9-32,000 and pizza 20-27,000. Deserts and coffee is also served ranging between 6 and 11,000 won. Try it; I doubt you will be disappointed.

How to get there. Line 6 to Itaewon Station, exit 3. Walk straight out of the exit about 300 meters. It will be on the right, before the Rocky Mountain Tavern and across the street from La Bocca. On the weekends, calling ahead and/or making a reservation is recommended. Phone: 02-797-0488/02-797-0489. Website:

My grade: A-

Come take a cooking class or take a Culinary Tour in Seoul!