Tani: A journey for the taste budsThe plush contemporary Asian atmosphere and refreshingly tasty and beautiful cuisine served on handmade ceramic plates are the highlights of dining at Tani.
So it’s not surprising that Tani, the “nomadic bistro,” has had a following since its opening in March ― even if few understood the nomadic bistro concept.
Tani, which means “ravine” in Japanese, is one of a few restaurants that offer a cuisine capable of satisfying the kaleidoscopic palates of globe-trotters. To gauge the restaurant’s popularity, one need look no further than the packed hall during the lunch hour on weekdays.
The warmly lit brown interior, decorated with wood, waterfalls, moss and stones, emulates the subdued opulence of a picturesque ravine. The elaborate wooden latticework adorning the columns and walls was inspired by Korean antique door frames. The columns, the wine cellar in the center and the steps create a geometric division of spaces for private settings.
At Tani, you can opt for a combination of several a la carte dishes or set menus, which usually include one of Tani’s most popular dishes along with “today’s dessert” and a choice of coffee or tea.
It’s the starters that get your mouth watering with their visually tempting presentation. One of the season’s best is the prawns and rolled salmon atop mashed potato “coins” served with chicory and lettuce leaves. The succulent seafood, crunchy leaves, root and tomato bits mixed with the tangy sauce feels like your mouth has boarded the Gourmet Land Express ―and it makes you glad that this blissful journey has only begun.
“The dish may look simple,” says Yoshiaki Kobayashi, the head chef, “but what goes into it is quite complex.”
Mr. Kobayashi, who used to work in a French restaurant in Japan, leads a kitchen staff of 12. Despite a prevailing rumor that Tani serves “fusion” food, the chef begs to differ: He says he does not cook fusion but “very basic dishes with the freshest, simplest ingredients.”
His favorite is his cream cheese salad with caramelized apple. The apple wedges are bursting with flavor, syrupy-sweet and hot. The heat from the apples wilts the watercress and rocket, which combine beautifully with the cream cheese.
Tani sushi rolls (15,000 won to 20,000 won, or $12-16) will make you bid sayonara to cheap take-out sushi. There’s a new roll for the winter: unagi, or grilled eel. Inside, the rice, specked with toasted sesame seeds, surrounds fresh rocket and extra-tender grilled eel strips; the sweet, brown gooey sauce on the plate is the perfect dip.
The sirloin steak is a superbly tender and juicy cut of beef. It is prepared Japanese tataki-style, fast-grilled over a high flame, so the outside is seared while the middle remains rare. The meat tastes well-aged and marinated, and, unlike Western steaks, it is served sliced for chopstick users.
The chef plans to introduce Australian lamb chops soon. “Koreans are not familiar with lamb, so I’m preparing pan-fried lamb chops on the bone so the subtle flavor and juices from the bone bring fullness to the dish,” he says.
Prawn and scallop cream tomato risotto (20,000 won) is a popular dish, but it is not included on any of the set menus. It’s a ceramic bowl full of creamy rice stuffed inside a whole tomato, which is baked together with asparagus and prawns. The rice is far from al dente, but it offers an interesting combination of textures ― from mushy tomato, creamy rice, crunchy asparagus and chewy prawn ― and all together a great taste.
Starting this month, Tani offers late-night tapas with wine, from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. The choice wines recommended by the sommelier, Kang So-young, include the West Australian 2002 Leeuwin Estate “Art Series” Riesling Margaret River (39,000 won a bottle), Chile’s 1999 Aconcagua Syrah Reserva Errazuriz (60,000 won) and a Bollinger Champagne Brut “Special Cuvee” (84,000 won). The champagne, also available in a half-bottle, is so popular that the first shipment Tani received sold out.
The riesling tastes pleasantly dry and light with a hint of apricot, apple and spice. This or the champagne is great with most tapas (8,000 won to 25,000 won) and seafood-based dishes. With pork, a beef terrine or a course meal, the Chilean red, which yields a wonderfully full-bodied, smoky taste with mild blackberry and vanilla flavors, is excellent.
Getting back on track, the final stopover, desserts (9,000 won), which are always artfully garnished, change daily, and sipping the delicious espresso or drip coffee (6,000 won) will make you never want to leave. That’s where the “nomad” concept comes into play: once you visit, you will forever return to this land of great cuisine.
Lunch set menus start at 28,000 won, dinner set menus at 54,000 won, excluding the 10-percent value added tax.
English menu: Available
Location: First floor of Komo building behind the Prada store in Cheongdam-dong.
Hours: Noon-3 p.m.; 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. (limited menu after 9 p.m.)
Tel: (02) 3446-9982
Dress code: Smart casual
Parking: Valet available
by Ines Cho