Creme Creme rises to the top of IlsanWant a reason to visit the satellite city of Ilsan?
The spacious lakeside park is one. (Shock! There are no fascists ― whoops, groundsmen ― marching around in spluttering fits of indignation ordering everyone off the grass.) The relaxed family-focused shopping in Lotte and Carrefour is two. (Shock! There are no frenetic crowds deterring anyone from a return visit.) The pleasant, U.S. suburban-style housing estate ― ex-President Kim Dae-jung maintained a home here before the electorate summoned him to the Blue House ― is three. (Shock! There are alternatives to living in numbered, 1984-style apartment blocks.) In short, Ilsan is everything Seoul isn’t ― spacious, well-planned and green.
The town is much in demand as a setting for romantic melodramas ― and is also home to some pretty good eateries. And since, by road, Ilsan is as close to downtown as Apgujeong and Cheongdam-dong, there’s no reason not to visit for a feed.
When it comes to Western food, Ilsan’s creme de la creme may well be “Creme Creme” (helpfully branded a “Wine Dine Restaurant,” just in case you aren’t sure what to do once you step inside). It’s a second floor walk-up off a main road. You mount the stairs between white wood fixtures. Inside are dark-wood floors, plain white walls, exposed brickwork, tables formally draped in white and set with modern designer crockery. Chef Jeong Yong-joo is ex-Cordon Bleu and ex-Marriott hotel; his menu offers a range of French choices, with a few pastas thrown in for the fun of it.
The five-course Lunch Set B goes for 27,000 won ($22). The starter is la mouclade (mussels in white wine and saffron cream), offering a very delicate mix of flavors; first class. The soup of the day is cream of zucchini: a light, frothy number, the epitome of a spring soup. The gourmet salad is shredded carrots, iceberg lettuce, cherry tomato halves, etc. Adequate but dull.
The rib steak with Pomeroy mustard sauce, though, is way beyond the average: a lovely thick chunk of cattle, charred from the grill, pink inside, served in a rich sauce with deep-fried onion rings for texture. And just to show that steak can be chic, it’s served on a bed of polenta. Finally, creme brulee (the classic French custard).
In the interest of completeness, we also sample the a la carte. The millefoglio di verdure (grilled vegetables, 9,000 won) is well presented, warm and dressed in olive oil. The fish of the day (22,000 won) is a fresh mero with mango sauce; light, textured with a grain coating and served on a mozzarella gratin. Sophisticated but accessible.
The owner Choi Joo-hee is a self-confessed wine maniac. Her list offers Old and New World varietals at a range of prices. Included are six “Wines of the Month.”
Please, gentle reader, keep the following to yourself: We enjoyed a 2002 Beringer Zinfandel (7,000 won a glass). This sweet, blush glugger is sneered at by wine snobs from Bordeaux to Busan, but is a lovely sip for the season: sweet, light, fruity.
With the steak, a Chilean Montes Merlot (also 7,000 won) performed excellent service. A monster of a nose, medium body and a jungle full of dark fruit in the taste. This is a best-seller in Korea, and so it should be.
Moans? Very few. This kind of place makes a food critic’s life difficult. The beer list is an abomination ― but this is hardly a beer drinker’s kind of place. My waitress over-dressed my salad, but was otherwise pleasant and efficient. Frankly, this is a well-run restaurant.
Verdict: Creme Creme offers a tasteful but relaxing ambience and fine ingredients, artistically presented. Spring is here, so take the trip to Ilsan, hit the park, do your shopping and then enjoy some quality cuisine at prices 30 to 50 percent below what you’d be paying in Seoul. Believe me, this place is too good to leave to the soap opera stars.
Some English spoken;
menu in French and Korean
Telephone: (031) 904-2005
Address: Gyeonggi province, Ilsan, Janghyang-dong 817-3. Opposite Jeodong Elementary School, a five-minute drive from Lakeside Park.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
Dress: Smart casual
by Andrew Salmon