The king of Thai restaurants and IWhat makes a restaurant sensational? Outstanding food, presentation and service are essential, but the clincher is the realization that you’ve just had an unforgettable experience that demands that you return for more. The Korean-Japanese restaurateur Shin Sung-soon knows exactly how to create that feeling,having opened more than 60 restaurants around the world.
His latest project is a Thai restaurant with a poetic name, After the Rain. Located atop a new building in Cheongdam-dong, in southern Seoul, After the Rain is already a gathering spot for the trendsetters in town. As you sit at your table, you can hear photographers, designers and magazine editors at nearby tables gush about this new-found gem. And they come back to enjoy the tastes, smells, sights and sounds.
The restaurant’s name was inspired by the poem “After the Rain” by American poet Thomas Bailey (1836-1907), and its interior captures the poem’s lyrical and emotional sentiments: Immediately after the rain stops, look at the lush ivy and palm trees still dripping raindrops and listen for the sound of rushing waters in the dark.
In the restaurant, you smell the aromatic spices wafting from the kitchen and you taste the exotic dishes from Thailand’s rainforests. How about succulent softshell crabs in yellow curry sauce, asparagus and straw mushrooms stir-fried in oyster sauce and aromatic, steamed jasmine rice served from a stone jar?
Mr. Shin didn’t want this place to be one of those encyclopedic Thai restaurants that serves anything and everything from the kingdom. Rather he carefully combined traditional Thai foods and a high-concept setting into what he calls a “modern Thai dining bar” offering an array of refined, nouvelle Thai cuisine. To complement this tradition-meets-modernism idea, Mr. Shin designed the furniture using environmentally-friendly materials. He placed the leaves of the water hyacinth, commonly found in Thailand, around miniature waterfalls and an indoor pond. He flew in four Thai chefs who had worked in trendy fusion restaurants in Bangkok. By doing so, he says he didn’t change his food’s traditional Thai taste, but “reinterpreted the style by selecting and coordinating” what works for contemporary dining.
Thai cuisine strives to have five perfectly balanced tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy. That perfection begins with a glass of iced lemongrass tea (5,000 won, or $4) and yam un sen, vermicelli salad with peeled prawns and sliced squid atop heaps of celery, green onion, onion, tomato and iceberg lettuce (12,000 won).
Practically any dish that follows will have that optimal balance. The tom yang kung, a traditional soup (12,000 won), is a colorful affair made of succulent prawns, straw mushrooms and red and green chili peppers in a spicy coconut-spiked broth. The phad thai (12,000 won), a sweet-and-sour stir-fried noodle dish, is a soothing change from the fiery dishes. A serving of asparagus and straw mushrooms wok-fried in oyster sauce (15,000 won), or no mai farang phad namman hoi, is a sheer delight; this Chinese-influenced dish is graced with a superb sweet, succulent sauce that is perfect with jasmine rice (1,500 won).
For something heartier, there’s the stir-fried rice with fish sauce, or khao kuk kapi (12,000 won), which stands up to the fiercely spicy yet enticing red curry with shrimp (16,000 won), red curry with beef slices (16,000 won) or pan-fried fish with red curry (12,000 won).
These culinary delights are further enhanced by a 2000 Corbett Canyon White Zinfandel from California (31,000 won a bottle) or a 1997 Ropiteau Tavel Rose (52,000 won) from France. A glass of house wine costs 6,000 won.
Finally the desserts. Tapioca and lychee served in palm sugar syrup (5,000 won) provides sweet, hot and cold sensations in a single bowl, and is as good as it is unusual. And you won’t find better pumpkin pudding (5,000 won) elsewhere in Seoul.
The sweet taste and the memory last long after you’ve left the table and headed out the door.
by Ines Cho
After the Rain is on the fourth floor of Art Building in Cheongdam-dong near m.net, and is open daily from noon to 2:30 p.m. and 6 to 11 p.m. Valet parking is available. For reservations, call (02) 3446-9375.