Central Seoul 2, Non-Korean Eats, Restaurant Reviews

Fine Dining Review: Peninsula Italian Restaurant at Lotte Hotel

Peninsula Italian Restaurant at Lotte Hotel
Osso Bucco over Saffron Risotto

You must have pickles at Italian Restaurants in Korea

Osso Bucco and Pumpkin Gnocchi are Top Notch!

by Daniel Gray (Seouleats)

The other day, my good friend and president of the company, Jia Choi said that every day seems to be a party. With many social functions and invitations to lunch, it seems that way. Recently, I was invited by Lotte Hotel to come visit their restaurants and give my thoughts on the food and service. So I went under the condition that I would be free to write whatever I liked. They encouraged me to be honest so I will.

Since it is winter, I was in the mood for some good Italian food. Overall, I haven’t been too impressed with many Italian places in Korea, but I figured that Lotte Hotel should be able to make something impressive- especially for the prices that they charge.

The first thing I did was to call the restaurant to make a reservation. This was a tad frustrating since the person taking the reservation kept messing up my phone number and my name. After trying several times, I eventually gave up and made the reservation in Korean.

When we arrived at the sumptuous hotel, the concierge directed us to the restaurant and we were seated. Peninsula Restaurant has two areas of seating. One is outside near the lobby and is very casual. We were directed to the inner rooms where our table waited. The restaurant inside is very open and bright. There is one room that has a domed ceiling and a private glassed in room that looks like a library. A very well designed restaurant.

They have typical Italian fare here: pastas, pizzas, antipastos, osso bucco, salads etc. There were a few things that caught my eye: the Caesar Salad with San Daniele Prosciutto; Organic Spaghetti with giant Clam, Seafood Risotto, Veal, and Lamb Chops. Since I was dining with friends, I decided on a tasting of different foods. My friends ordered the Minestrone and the Onion Soup and I ordered the Caesar Salad with Prosciutto.

For the main we decided on the Osso Bucco with Saffron Risotto, the Pumpkin Gnocchi and the Romano Pizza.

I placed the order and we were on our way. The waiter came around with some bread with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. The bread was good- especially the foccaccia. The foccaccia had a bit of baked Parmesan and some crunchy salt- just the way I like it.

The salads and soups came out quickly. The Caesar dressing had the right amount of creaminess and anchovyness. The leaves were crunchy as well and the prosciutto added the right amount of saltiness. The onion soup’s stock was richly flavored with beef, caramelized onion and a bit of Romano cheese. The minestrone was fine as well. A good start.

After this course, then came a long wait. After we finished with our second serving of bread, we asked one of the waiters why our food was taking so long. The waiter asked the captain and then the captain came over and explained to us that the risotto on the osso bucco was taking time to cook. He apologized profusely and then brought us more bread (you can have too much of a good thing). About 10 minutes later our food came out which was brought out by 3 servers (I guess they could sense we were running a bit impatient.)

They brought out serving tongs (which wasn’t very efficient for getting sauce or rice) so I had to wait a couple minutes as I tried to get the attention of one of our waiters that were rushing back and forth in order to get a couple of serving spoons. After getting the spoons, I was able to try the food.

The food was great- no problems here. The pumpkin gnocchi in cream sauce was plush and you could taste the deep, orange flavor of the winter pumpkin. There was some truffle oil as well- which I think it could have been omitted. While I like the flavor of truffles, the oil is too over powering. The pizza was good as well. The crust was thin and it had ample toppings on it. I liked the capers and the anchovies that added a nice flavor to the pizza. The star of the lunch was the Osso Bucco. The veal was fork tender and flavorful. The risotto was cooked perfectly and had the right amount of pop. The saffron smell was light and it let it complemented the flavor of the meat.

And at the end of the meal, we were treated to a light dessert of fruit and some sweetened marscapone on a almond cookie.

Overall, a fine meal, but I did have some problems with the service. It was a bit difficult to get the attention of some of the servers. I’m not sure if they were understaffed on this day or not. This was further emphasized when I went to pay for the bill. I think that the server should have offered the bill at the table after our coffee but instead I had to go to the counter. Also, I wasn’t really sure which of the many waiters were assigned to us- it seemed as if they were working in teams. I feel that for a restaurant of this caliber, the service should match the level of the food. The food was the highlight of the meal and service should complement that.

** 2 Stars: Very Good: Very Good Experience. With a few tweaks, it could be exceptional

$$$ 20-80 USD

Peninsula Italian Dining and Wine
Lotte Hotel
Jung-gu, Sogong-dong 1 bonji 1st Floor ZIP: 100-070
Visited January 2012 with Colleagues/clients

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Romano Pizza
Caesar Salad San Daniele
Osso Bucco, Romano Pizza and Pumpkin Gnocchi
Pumpkin Gnocchi
Jia Choi with head chef Bruce Lee!

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Korean Eats, Southeastern Seoul

Soy-marinated Crab: Pro-Soy Crab

Pro-soy Crab in Sinsadong

One of the better meals that I have had this year has been at Pro-kanjang Gyejang. This place specializes in soy-sauce marinated crab. This dish is a delicacy in Korean culture and some might (I heard that Chef Pierre Gagnaire didn’t care for this dish). This is a dish that most people can only have at certain times of the year and winter is the best time for the crabs gorge themselves on food to get ready for mating season. What sets Pro-kanjang gyejang apart from other places that the crab is delicate in texture yet not overpowering in flavor.

Some of the places that make this dish make the dish too salty and it requires several bowls of rice in order to eat it. Here the crabs are full of flavor and yet subtle enough that you can eat a whole plate of them without any rice at all. They are simply addictive.

I was lucky enough to follow Chef Andreas of the JW Marriot Hotel to Prosoycrab. He was doing a shoot for a German Television Show and I was asked to tag along. What that meant was that I got to talk a lot about food and then eat it. Not a bad gig I must say.

In the kitchen we watched the cooks expertly chop the crabs so it could be easily picked up and eaten. The crab is so delicious that you’ll want to pick clean every little bit of meat. The prize of this dish are the golden eggs which is like foie gras and uni. Absolutely delicious.

Afterwards we had some of their famous crab soup. For the soup they use the male crabs and the for the soy-marinated crabs they use the females. I guess it is an equal opportunity restaurant.

Great food and good service. I must tell you that it is not the cheapest restaurant. A small order of the soy marinated crabs (enough for 2) costs 55,000 won and a large costs (enough for 4) costs 80,000 won. You can see the menu below.

Pro-Soy Crab (프로간장게장)
Seocho-gu, Jamwon-dong 27-1 Pro Building


Pro-soy Crab Menu Seoul
Pro-soy Crab Seou Menu
Pro-soy Crab Menu

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Central Seoul 2, Non-Korean Eats

Restaurant Write Up: Vatos Urban Tacos in Itaewon

This is a guest post written and photographed by the fabulous Megan O’Brien. 

Vatos Tacos in Itaewon
Vatos Tacos in Itaewon
Vatos Tacos in Itaewon
Vatos Tacos in Itaewon

It is a fact that Korean food is up and coming on the world food scene. It is also a well known that tacos have been making a triumphant comeback for a couple years now. In the U.S., food trucks have been popping up in cities offering a combination of the two in the form of Korean tacos. The simple presentation of tacos provides an opportunity to be creative and artistic with ingredients and the distinct flavors of Korean BBQ is the perfect filling. 

Recently in Seoul, two guys from California and Texas, respectively, have been able to successfully offer Korean tacos in a casual, sit-down restaurant format. With the hip name, Vatos Urban Tacos, you get the impression that the guys know a thing or two about what people in Seoul are looking for in a taco and have given taco enthusiasts in Seoul an opportunity to try well crafted food in a nice yet accessible setting.

Presently, there are 5 styles of tacos on their menu. They offer the tried and true carne asada as well as very impressive carnitas. For Korean tacos they have samgyeopsal and galbi-two Korean BBQ favorites and they have recently added fish tacos to their menu. I think that the carnitas, which is phenomenal, really stood out. The galbi taco, also delicious, was a perfect match with the cilantro, chilies and cabbage filling. The flavor of the fish tacos were on par with the famous street tacos you can find down in Baja.

Along with tacos, the menu also offers excellent appetizers. The most unique are Kimchi Carnitas Fries and Kimchi Quesadillas- a great option for vegetarians. They also have made a great tortilla soup, which is the ultimate comfort food for a homesick Californian like myself.
Vatos offers a highly creative and exciting drink menu. In addition to having local and craft beers, they have a mean Bloody Mary. Their ultimate drink for those of us in South Korea is the Makgeollita. A drink that combines the popular Korean beverage, makgeolli with the classic margarita. The Makgeollita is offered in different fruit flavors; mango and strawberry being my favorite.

In addition to the great food and a cool setting, I have been really impressed by the two gentlemen that run the place. Having been there a handful of times now I have had the opportunity to chat with the guys a bit. They definitely know what goes into making a good taco and they are enthusiastic to supply high-quality food to their patrons.

Vatos Tacos in Itaewon

Address : Yongsan-gu Itaewon-dong, 181-8 용산구 이태원동 181-8 2층 02-797-8226 [email protected]
Phone :02-797-8226
Website : http://www.vatoskorea.com
Vatos Tacos is located on the same street as Wolfhound and JR’s, just farther down the hill. Behind where Dillinger’s and Outback would be. Across from the Family Mart.

Megan is from San Diego, CA. She’s interested in things involving cycling, food politics, coffee, taking photos, whiskey, music that incorporates a peddle steel, overalls and cut-offs. When she’s not riding a bike around Seoul or taking photos, she teaches. Her blog is: http://www.thetoohugeworld.wordpress.com

Come take a cooking class or take a Culinary Tour in Seoul! http://www.ongofood.com

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Central Seoul, Non-Korean Eats

Review: Agio: Italian Food in Insadong

Agio Italian Food in Insadong by Daniel Gray

Agio Italian Food in Insadong by Daniel Gray

Italian food in Korea is not like the Italian food that I had while growing up. Then again, the Italian food in America is nothing like the food in Italy. 

The pizzas are brick oven baked on thin crust and the sauces are chunky. Sure there are some notable differences such as the preposterous amount of sauce and the side of pickles, but that’s a cultural thing. Koreans need something salty and crunchy with their food- I think this is a good thing; it’s a way to balance out the meal.

The food at Agio is not bad. It’s nothing special, but I would go there again. If I had a date (incredible as that might sound), I might take her here. There are some great things about this place. They make their pasta fresh and they have a brick pizza oven with wood fire. For me, it’s old news but my Korean friends that I went there with really enjoyed it.

The pizza was on a crisp thin crust with just the right amount of cheese and sauce and topped with basil – not the freshest, mind you, but it was basil. The tomato sauce on the pasta was chunky and fresh tasting and it complemented the al-dente, fresh noodles. The cream sauce spaghetti was a tad sweet for my taste, but the others at the table liked it. For me the mushroom pasta dish was just right- it had the right amount of savory mushrooms in an olive oil sautee with garlic. Yum.

It’s not overpriced; it’s reasonable. Pastas start at 12,000- which is cheap in Korea. And pizzas start at 16,000. The setting at Agio is homey and it would be great for a quiet Italian dinner with friends or a loved one.

South Korea Seoul Jongno-gu Gyeonji-dong 68-1

+82 2-722-0211 

Agio Italian Food in Insadong by Daniel Gray

Agio Italian Food in Insadong by Daniel Gray

Agio Italian Food in Insadong by Daniel Gray

Agio Italian Food in Insadong by Daniel Gray

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Central Seoul 2, Non-Korean Eats

The Battle for Itaewon Kebab Supremacy take three: Petra Palace

Written and Photographed by Troy Zitzelsberger

Petra Palace

Having been here for nearly a month now, I’m still considered a newbie. So when I told my kebab fanatic Iranian friend that I am partaking on a quest to find the Kebab Raja of Itaewon he informed me of all the various kebab eateries with the exception of one. How this gem slipped his mind I don’t know since it is now on the top of mine.

When it comes to options, Petra Palace has a more extensive menu than any of the other kebab joint’s I have been to thus far. You can get anything from a minced lamb hommos platter (₩ 14,000) to your typical chicken kebab aka chicken schwarma (₩ 5,000). However, in the search for the greatest kebab,

Petra has distinguished itself being the only Kebab place in Itaewon that offers falafel (₩ 5,000). These delectable, healthy little balls of joy will satisfy the appetite of both vegetarians and carnivores alike.

It is made from chickpeas and/or fava beans. Now this particular falafel I found to be lacking in flavor but this is where the sauce came in with a home run. Petra has great sauces, the best I have tried so far.

Their unique green hot sauce is spicy without being overpowering while their yoghurt sauce is nice and creamy with a subtle hint of garlic. The two sauces when mixed together create a distinctive balance of flavors that I highly recommend. All in all, I was satisfied with my meal. The chicken kebab was tender and juicy while the falafel was crispy and unique. Petra has now become second in line to the throne for the Kebab Raja, however I still have a few more establishments to try. The search continues…

Petra Palace can be found in Itaewon directly kitty corner from Mr. Kebab down the street from Subway line 6 exit 3.

Troy Zitzelsberger originally hails from Michigan but has lived in Chicago, New York City, Germany, and now Seoul. He is working as an actor (really, no joke) in Korea and he humbly calls himself, “an unofficial food critic.” You can find out more about Troy here.

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Come take a cooking class or take a Culinary Tour in Seoul! http://www.ongofood.com
Pictures are taken either with my Panasonic DMC-G2 Camera with 20mm Lens or with my iPhone 4G
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