No sauce, no gravy ― just steak, thanksBulgogi or galbi over fire, hearty beef stews and soups ― such meaty treats qualify Korea as a serious beef country. Still, sometimes one dreams of a juicy, tender slice of prime rib, one that reveals a mouth-wateringly pink interior when you cut into it.
Compared to the complex marinades and creative preparation involved in many Korean beef dishes, a good steak doesn’t actually require very much. Simply using high-quality beef goes a long way. But somehow, chefs here don’t seem to understand this; they keep trying to mask the taste of a steak with sauces.
The Manhattan Grill, which opened last month in the Renaissance Seoul Hotel, is a steakhouse that serves none of that frilly stuff ―just beef, all-American style.
The menu boasts simple, familiar steaks that are actually getting harder to find in Seoul, such as filet mignon, ribeye, T-bones and pepper steaks. Side orders are the sort of basics you might find in the first pages of a book called “Introduction to American Cooking”: baked potato with sour cream, chives and bacon bits; mashed potatoes; glazed carrots; sauteed asparagus and broccoli.
Equipped with wooden wine cabinets, this restaurant, which has four private rooms and can seat a total of 76 customers, has the sort of masculine ambience associated with British-style libraries and cigar lounges (cigar smoking, however, is restricted to the private rooms).
Appetizers include Boston lobster cocktail (33,000 won or $27 plus 10 percent VAT and 10 percent service charge), king prawn salad (29,000 won) and lobster carpaccio (19,000 won), prepared fresh from the wall-mounted fish tank.
I went with the lobster cocktail, which so far is the most popular choice. It arrived in a most glorious manner; the lobster had been cut in half and turned into a bed filled with chunks of succulent white meat coated in a light, tangy, mayonnaise-based sauce. It was a spectacular presentation, the large, menacing, bright orange claws contrasting in a picturesque way with the white meat and the bright blue ice chips.
I was tempted by the seven-ounce (200-gram) filet mignon at 38,000 won, but the German executive chef, Friedrich Hummel, recommended the “butcher’s choice” cut, a 550-gram prime rib with bone (60,000 won).
He recommended a simple baked potato on the side, which I ordered along with asparagus (side orders are 4,000 won each).
The steak was also served in grand style, on a large, fancy wooden showplate that featuring a pair of glistening bull’s heads in polished chrome. The thick, pinkish-brown slab was charred just right, with criss-crossing black lines.
“This is how you should have the meat,” said Mr. Hummel, bringing over a black peppercorn mill and, without asking, twisting it a few times over the steak. Suddenly, the steak exploded with hearty, earthy, smoky aromas.
A good steak made from chilled beef, not frozen, has a distinctive texture. This was definitely grain-fed, succulent, sweet and wholesome.
The beef served at Manhattan Grill is Australian, but Mr. Hummel attests that the cattle had never eaten grass (a grass diet gives a steak a strong flavor not unlike that of liver).
He said my steak was grilled for just seven minutes to char and cook the surface, and that the flavor from the bone makes the taste even heartier. There was gravy on the side, but naturally, I left it alone.
When I first saw the steak, I thought the portion might be too large for me, but I didn’t stop until there was nothing left but a bone with a bit of meat attached. I never even got around to the baked potato, though I did manage to eat the two asparagus spears.
A glass of the house red, a 2000 Robert Mondavi Private Selection merlot (20,000 won), went down smoothly, beautifully complementing the meat. Dessert was very traditional: crepes Suzette served with vanilla ice cream (12,000 won), dark and white chocolate mousse in the shape of cigars (13,500 won) and a powerful Davidoff espresso for digestion’s sake (11,000 won).
After dinner, as I was driving back to work, I wondered why on earth I’d left that deliciously charred bit of meat on the bone.
English: Spoken, and on the menu.
Tel.: (02) 2222-8637.
Hours: Noon-2:30 p.m., 6-10 p.m. daily.
Location: First floor of the Renaissance Seoul Hotel in southern Seoul.
Subway: Yeoksam station, line No. 2, exit 8.
Parking: Free valet parking.
Dress: Smart casual or elegant.
by Ines Cho