Italian food aiming at a Michelin starWith its elegant Italian cuisine, sleek interior and flawless service, Buon Posto in Cheongdam-dong was a spot where the capital’s trendsetters regularly dined and socialized with its owner, Kang Hee-sook. When she was not at the restaurant, she was busy dressing Korea’s most beautiful actresses for photo shoots and award ceremonies.
When Ms. Kang decided to revamp Buon Posto, instead of redecorating it she moved to another location and opened an impressive establishment called Table 2025. Designed by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, it is a multi-functional complex which houses not only the new Buon Posto but also her fashion boutiques, a Moroccan dining bar, a cafe, an outdoor atrium and esthetics salons. On a fine day when the second-floor terrace is open, the restaurant can seat up to 200. It also has four private rooms and a banquet hall.
Visitors to the new Buon Posto will find that the interior speaks of world-class elegance. In the spacious hall, a Korean architect, Bae Dae-yong, placed an Ionian column that soars to the third floor, and an aged wooden table matched with Philippe Starck’s Louis Ghost chairs. The two natural elements, French marble and Korean granite slabs, that decorate the walls and floors absorb the warm glow of the chandeliers.
Surrounded by such a luxurious atmosphere, I had an impulse to order a glass of Italian sparkling wine, the Villa Tolanda (10,000 won, or $10, plus 10 percent VAT). When I was informed that the head chef, Yang Pil-seung, had just finished making a fois gras terrine, my mouth watered. Pointing at the terrine garnished with salt crystals, Mr. Yang explained, “This is the kind of sea salt served in Michelin-star restaurants. It’s imported from Sicily.”
Indeed, the semi-transparent crystals did have the rounded sweetness and clean aftertaste of a top-grade sea salt, completing the harmony of the food. Except for the fact that the sweet taste of the pear served with the terrine was slightly more prominent than the fois gras and salt, Mr. Yang’s preparation could have passed for a Michelin-star dish.
When Ms. Kang joined me for dinner, she asked for her favorite, sea bass carpaccio (30,000 won). The salad, topped with slices of glistening sea bass, had by far the most sophisticated structure of tastes. The tender fish, fresh arugula, tangy lemon juice, and sweet pineapple were beautifully harmonized with just the right touch of balsamic vinegar, aromatic olive oil and Sicilian salt.
The most spectacular pasta was fetuccine with lobster, asparagus and button mushrooms (45,000 won). Decorated with the crustacean’s head and tail, the dish was full of great ingredients, from the white succulent lobster meat to green asparagus, fresh red tomato and roated garlic, and untangling the colorful pasta only intensified the good taste.
Everyone at Buon Posto raved about the mushroom risotto (20,000 won), so I tried it. Slices of beef tenderloin and delicious treasures of the forest ― from shiitake and oyster mushrooms to expensive pine mushrooms ― topped creamy arborio rice, making for a very earthy dish. All the mushrooms tasted fine except for the pine mushrooms, which did not have their famous aroma. Pine mushrooms are now out of season, and those used in the dish were the frozen variety, with a notably inferior taste and texture.
Buon Posto serves excellent meat dishes. The grilled lamb chop with thyme and olive oil (32,000 won) was not too heavily marinated and was simply grilled to bring out the meat’s full flavor. The flesh was pink and very tender, and each morsel of the dish, which included boletus mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and asparagus, went down very smoothly, accompanied by a glass of the 2001 Monte Antico Sangiovese (10,000 won), a medium-bodied red.
Toward the end of the meal, I was told that desserts from Table, the bakery upstairs, were selling out fast. Luckily, they still had tiramisu, made with mascarpone cheese and espresso (9,000 won). It arrived in an elegant manner: the cake, in the shape of a heart, was fanned by almond tuiles. It was light and delicious, but had been modified for Asian diners’ tastes. Desserts at a restaurant such as this could be bolder, like those served at restaurants in Milan after a heavy meal.
Sipping what used to be one of top quality coffees in Seoul, another thought went through my mind. If the new Buon Posto chef really meant to challenge a Michelin star some day, I wanted to propose to him that he needed to upgrade the coffee. For a restaurant this impressive, Illy’s coffee just seemed too ordinary.
English: Spoken, on the menu.
Tel: (02) 544-4081/2.
Hours: Noon-3 p.m., 5-10 p.m. on weekdays; Noon-10 p.m. on weekends.
Location: Inside Table 2025 building behind Hard Rock Cafe in Cheongdam-dong.
Dress code: Elegant.
Second opinion: “Classy upscale restaurant with good food and ambience, but a little pricey.” Selina Jung, managing director of Maison du Cafe.
by Ines Cho