A Taste of Italy for Korean Diners3 Kang Sisters Offer Northern and Tuscan Food and Wine at Their Restaurant
Wearing a classic gray suit she made herself, the Korean fashion designer and restaurateur Kang Hee-sook is a petite, lovely woman with youthful skin that belies her age. She sips her wine and confesses coyly, "I know nothing about running a business, but I know what I want. I like a really spacious terrace where you can feel at ease, a big bathroom with fresh orchids blooming inside, romantically dim lights over dinner in the evening and the pleasant clamoring of a casual restaurant during the day, extra large plates for everything served, gorgeously garnished food that goes well with a nice wine and just the right kind of coffee at the end. We use the most expensive ingredients to make the best food – ingredients make the food. Everything we prepare here should be classic, like my own clothing design inspirations."
And that's all you get at her Italian restaurant, Buon Posto, in Cheongdam-dong in Seoul. As the successful designer of her own fashion collection, titled Kang Hee Sook, she was able to travel
extensively while attending fashion shows in the '80s.
While in Milan she fell in love with a certain Italian restaurant: Paper Moon, also in New York City and Istanbul. Deeply impressed with the food, preparation and atmosphere of their favorite restaurant, she and her two younger sisters, Yun-sook and Jin-sook, created a conceptual restaurant in which they could always feel at home. Hence the restaurant gets its name, which means good place and is taken from the common Italian phrase "buon posto di solito" (a good place to be, as always). The eldest of three sisters, Hee-sook is the creative director and chief designer, Yun-sook the president of Buon Posto and Jin-sook, the youngest, the manager.
At Buon Posto, from antipasti (appetizers) to desserts, patrons are offered a cuisine with a decidedly northern Italian influence. Starting this week, the restaurant also features the rich and delicious flavors of Tuscany. Since the restaurant was opened in August 1999, Buon Posto has conducted culinary exchanges with Il Restorante Villa Pitiana located in the age-old Villa Pitiana hotel ( www.villapitiana.com) near Florence. Once used as a monastery, the Villa Pitiana is now an elegant and prestigious hotel complex and tourist sight.
Florence, the largest city in Tuscany, has had an enormous cultural and historical impact on the region and was home to the Medici dynasty. Originally a city of trade, it was here that the Medici family amassed their renowned wealth during medieval times.
Tuscany also boasts a long line of culinary traditions - olive oil, meat dishes and classic Chianti wine are among some of the more popular exports. Tuscan cuisine dates back to the Etruscan Empire, a civilization that reached its peak between the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. It has very little fat or salt because the raw ingredients are of such pure quality, making the Tuscan-style cuisine both healthy and tasty.
Il Restorante Villa Pitiana's manager, Roberto Focardi, and chef, Claudio Vignali, visited Buon Posto for a week to demonstrate and introduce the Florence holiday specials aptly titled " ToscanaPromotion."
The elegant full-course meal starts with un bicchiere di spumante (a glass of the daily wine selection) and terrina di coniglio al marsala con scampi e capesante in mantello di pancetta e rosmarino (rabbit terrine and scallop and shrimp wrapped in bacon with Marsala wine sauce)." Terrina" is a sophisticated appetizer made from ground rabbit meat baked in an oven with Marsala wine, which originated on Sicily and is a choice
cooking wine for many chefs. According to the senior chef, Kang Won-chul, when the meat is cooked with " fine" or one-year vintage Marsala wines of 18 percent alcohol - milder than port wine, but stronger than table wine - it becomes tender and lightly flavored with the wine's mild aroma, agreeable to even the most sophisticated palate.
The soup, petto di piccione nella passata di fagioli profumata alla salvia e crostoncini de pane alle olive nere (sage-flavored bean soup with pigeon and olive croutons) is most satisfy-ing. The brown creamy soup is beautifully garnished with grilled pigeon breast and black olive croutons, which add a chewy texture to the dish.
The main course consists of ravioli de melanzane e ricotta con ragu pesce spada pomodoro fresco e origano (home-made ravioli stuffed with eggplant and ricota cheese cooked in tomato sauce and fresh oregano) and controfiletto di bue al vino rosso e rosmarino con patate antica e cipolla stufata (pan-fried beef slices with rosemary and red wine sauce). According to Jin-sook, the beef comes from castrated Korean cows and is cooked in Chianti wine.
The parts of each prepared dish are separately cooked, grilled or baked and then cooked again in a savory sauce with fresh herbs.
Just when you think the wholesome meal is over, another round of pleasantries is offered – piccolo zuccotto alla Fiorentina or traditional Florence-style cake, served with fresh yogurt ice cream. The mildly sweet and cool taste along with the creamy tex-ture are nice contrasts against the warm chocolate cake. The des-sert is perfectly complemented by a cup of Illy's coffee served in a white porcelain cup.
In addition to Buon Posto's regular menu – including Angus steak, veal, fresh seafood, wet Mozzarella cheese (fresh Mozzarella in Italy is served wet and soft, and is a rare treat to find abroad), carpaccio (raw meat) and lucula (a kind of Italian spinach) – it is one of the few Italian restaurants in Korea where diners can enjoy fresh homemade pasta.
Chef Kang and his associate chef, Yang Pil-seung, are regularly sent to Italy to bring home authentic Italian recipes. Mr. Kang rec-ommends tortelloni di asparagi (ricotta cheese and asparagus tortelloni with tomato sauce) and spaghetti nero (home-made black noodles with seafood tomato sauce) as the connoisseur's choice. Both dishes feature fresh pasta made from vegetables and octopus ink. The best al dente of the season is spaghetti sue melanzane con scaglie di parmi-agiano e profumi di origano (spaghetti with egg-plant, parmesan cheese and oregano). This is a simple but extremely tasty dish made with Tus-cany's best extra virgin olive oil and thin strips of eggplant that are separately grilled from the pasta to give a smokey zest.
Having finished the meal, the Kang sisters sit around the table and agree in unison with their oldest sister, "We know nothing about wine, but we like these wines." Since they refer to Chianti and Frascati, their humble claim to know nothing seems dubious, as the elegant dishes go oh-so well with that which they happen to like.
For those who are interested in learning more about authentic Italian cooking and wine, Buon Posto offers a cooking course three times a year.
The Toscana Promotion set menu costs 43,000 won ($35), and a regular-size pasta costs around 13,000 won, to which a 10 percent VAT will be added. Buon Posto is open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. (the last order by 9:30 p.m.). English and Japanese language services are available. For reservation or inquiries call 02-544-4081~2.
by Inès Cho