A loaded cutting board for a late-night repastInviting a friend who was on a diet to join me at a barbecue restaurant might not have been the soundest idea, but I knew how to convince her. I said we were going to a place styled after French butcher shop restaurants, where you choose the cut of meat you want. What’s more, there would be nice, full-bodied Spanish wine.
Although the concept comes from Europe’s butcher shops, Itaewon’s new La Plancha ―a new venture by the owner of the French bistro Le Saint-Ex, which is next door ―is a reasonably elegant brasserie-style restaurant. It specializes in barbecued meat and sausages, but you won’t see carcasses, limbs or viscera hanging in the open kitchen, nor is there the acrid odor typical of meat joints (at least not yet). A small, refrigerated glass case does display cuts of meat and vegetables, but it functions more as a decorative element.
La Plancha, which can accommodate about 60 people (private room and outdoor terrace included), holds appeal for night owls. “If you want to have anything non-Korean, nothing’s open at night here,” explains owner Benjamin Joinau. “So many customers had asked me to open a restaurant that opens late and serves simple bistro food, so I did.”
From the multinational wine list, we selected the house red, a 2000 Gran Sangre de Toro (“bull’s blood” in Spanish). At 8,500 won ($7) per glass, it was a full-bodied, blood-red wine, well-rounded in acidity and tannin, and good for digesting red meat.
Ordering was fun; diners customize their meals, choosing from chicken, pork, lamb and beef. Meat is sold in combos or by weight. Mr. Joinau recommends about 200 grams per person.
My friend and I are both lamb lovers, so we chose two varieties, skewered lamb (15,000 won) and lamb chop (14,000 won per 100 grams). We added 100 grams of tenderloin steak (17,500 won) and two 100-gram pork sausages (9,000 won each). Two sauces and two garnishes come with each order.
To make the meal very red from the beginning, we decided to start with beef carpaccio (8,000 won). The paper-thin beef, topped with mustard sauce, came with a heap of greens mixed with a lot of tangy Italian dressing. The dressing was too salty, but the beef was excellent.
The assorted meat was served on a large wooden board, hence the restaurant’s name (“la plancha” means a cutting board or grill). Accompanying the medium-rare morsels were four dipping sauces: Bearnaise, a yogurt sauce, a red wine sauce and a spicy Asian sauce. Skewered alongside the meat were onion, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini; on the side were mashed potatoes with olives, homemade French fries and Provence-style baked tomatoes. The meal looked like a true carnivore’s fiesta, complete with three kinds of knives to choose from. (We chose the short, dagger-like ones.)
My friend began to panic about weight gain. I told her the important thing was that the meal be chemically balanced. “You see, wine, desserts and coffee will take care of all the food we ate tonight,” I explained. “That’s why French people are so slim.” She gave a deep nod, and once she started eating, seemed to forget about calories.
We both loved the lamb chop, which was brown outside and pink inside ―tender, juicy and delicious. The beef, which tasted imported, was very good (not as good as the lamb chop, though). The skewered lamb was good, too, but again, not as good as the chop. The sausages were lean and smoky. Every bite, especially when dipped in the aromatic wine sauce, was a rare moment. (These were pricey moments, however. Assuming that a typical steak weighs in at 300 grams ―about 10 and a half ounces ― the same amount of steak at La Plancha, if you do the math, comes to 52,500 won, plus VAT.)
Our guilty pleasures continued. Sounding like a cosmetics salesperson promising eternal youth, I told my friend that ultra-sweet desserts would melt all the fat we’d eaten, and that strong coffee would erase all traces of food from our systems, leaving us free to eat tomorrow. So after clearing our plancha, we had three desserts and two double espressos, in the name of proper French digestion. The desserts were a smooth, creamy Mont Blanc (6,000 won), made with a particularly nutty and sweet chestnut paste from Bordeaux (it went very well with the coffee); a banana split (6,000 won) featuring flambeed bananas, and a refreshingly sour lemon sorbet with vodka (7,000) ―a clean finish, leaving us with no regrets.
It certainly was a lot of meat, wine, desserts and coffee, but my friend called the next day: “You’re right, Ines. I’m hungry again, and I’m going back for more lamb chop!”
English: Spoken; English menu available.
Tel.: (02) 790-0063.
Hours: 6 p.m.-2 a.m. nightly (except Mondays).
Location: Itaewon, at the west end of the alley behind the Hamilton Hotel.
Subway: Itaewon station, line No. 6, exit 1.
Parking: One hour’s free parking at the Hamilton Hotel.
Dress: Smart casual.
by Ines Cho