This was published in the Friday, March 12th 2010 issue of the Korea Herald.
Italian food isn’t hard to find, but popularity doesn’t mean that just any spaghetti would be something that an Italian would find palatable.
Of course, there are the reliable standbys such as Sortinos in Itaewon, Seoul, Antonio in Cheongdam and Primo Baci Baci in Hongdae. But for every reliable Italian restaurant, there are at least three duds. So are there any good new Italian restaurants in Seoul? I was determined to find out.
I chose three: Dam Dam in Hongdae, J and T Trattoria near Seoul National University and Lugo in Apgujeong. Each has positives and negatives, and since they are different price ranges, there’s one for everyone’s budget.
Dam Dam 2595
In a hidden Hongdae back alley is a cute little restaurant. It has a brick exterior with moss growing between the cracks – appropriate for a good first impression. Its two-syllable name, “Dam Dam,” is a holler to every artsy Hongdae student. Its facade works because it is generally packed from afternoon to night.
Here you get something a little better than Konglified Italian cuisine. The pastas are cooked al dente, the tomato sauces aren’t too sweet, and the ingredients are fresh. The salad had very crisp lettuce (but I think they could have dried it off a bit more – evidenced by the puddle of water at the bottom of my salad bowl).They also have excellent curries. The masala based curry is made in-house and I have to say that it showed the chef’s skill.
The best part is the price. Pastas start at 7,000 won, the curries start at 5,000, and wine at 3,000 a glass.
Phone: (070) 8848-2595 Directions: Go out Sangsu Station, Exit 1. Make a right at the Hongdae Parking Lot and take the second right.
J and F Trattoria
When chef Franco Sommariva invited me to visit his restaurant, I was intrigued. A true Italian chef was in Seoul. Sommariva has worked as the Italian chef at the Marriot Hotels in Seoul, Singapore, Shanghai and other places around the world. He decided to open up his own restaurant in Seoul, because he loves the city and he wants to give people the true taste of the old country.
So, did he succeed? Simply, yes. And the keyword to his success is “fresh.” The sauces, bread, and stocks are made fresh every day. He only makes a day’s worth of tiramisu, which is a labor-intensive dish.
The standout dishes for me were the minestrone soup: soft, clear broth accented with basil and black pepper, and polka dotted with beans; the prosciutto and arugula pizza: the crust was crisp on the outside and cloudy soft inside; and the lasagna: this sizable feast was the best that I’ve had in the city. And we can’t forget about the tiramisu; it’s perfect.
The prices are mid-range. Pastas start at 11,000, entrees at 14,000, and they have carafes of wine at 12,000 won.
Phone: (02) 887-2825
Directions: Go out Seoul National University Station, Exit 2.
Lugo Sometimes you have to treat yourself. Luxury lets us know what is possible and Lugo in Apgujeong is the place to go. The original Lugo restaurant can be found in New York City. The first thing you will notice as you step into the space is the high ceiling; it makes you feel taller. The second thing is the open kitchen, where tuque adorned chefs make mozzarella to order, and the third is the large sign that reads: Dolce Vita. As you settle into your posh seat, words such as truffle oil, Roma-style gnocchi, fresh made pasta, citrus panna cotta, and prosciutto wrapped mozzerella topped with figs waft up from the menu. I say go with your instincts; you can’t go wrong here. The Roma-style gnocchi, shaped like crescent moons, is made from semolina instead of potato. This gives it a slightly nutty texture to balance the racy scent of truffle oil. Their pasta is also exceptional. Fresh-made pasta makes all the difference. Its texture is silky and not as dense as dried pasta. And seriously, with the prices that most Italian restaurants in Seoul charge, it’s an injustice to not make pasta from scratch. The pizza is just pizza. It’s good, but something we’ve all had. I recommend you get the “Spigola in Cartoccio.” It’s sea bass roasted with mushrooms and sweet onions baked in parchment paper. And we can’t forget about dessert. The vanilla bean rich panna cotta topped with an orange caramel sauce is fantastic. Like I said, sometimes you just have to live the sweet life. Phone: (02) 512-0578 Directions: Take a taxi to Ansae Hospital and make a right down the street. It’s across the street from the Family Mart.
Daniel Gray works for O’ngo Food Communications. You can follow his adventures at www.seouleats.com; the opinions expressed here are the author’s only and do not necessarily represent those of The Korea Herald. – Ed.