Hefty prices, good food and an artistic ambienceThere is sunshine ― and then there is Sunshine.
Regarding the former: This year is expected to be the hottest in 100 years, so get some sunglasses before prices go through the roof. Regarding the latter: Shades are near-essential accessories at The Soho, a Cheongdam-dong establishment run by one Sunshine Lee.
This charming, 40-something ray of light is one of those people who are irritatingly good at many things. She’s been a newspaper columnist (for the Joong Ang Ilbo, among others), a TV journalist and an avid collector of fine art. Currently, she is translating the poetry of her late mother Son Ho-yun, who, although Korean, was one of Japan’s most famed waka poets.
The other thing she is good at is running restaurants: there are two The Sohos, one near Gyeongbok Palace, and the Cheongdam branch, which opened last year.
Concept? “Beautiful, artistic and romantic,” gushes Sunshine. “I want people to experience music, art, literature and food under one roof.”?
That’s a tall order, but The Sohos feature frequent concerts, and art graces the walls. Clearly, the ambience will soothe arty souls. This quadruple split-level place is pleasingly put together. The 1st floor dining room features black marble, wood, exposed brickwork, large windows, even a couple of trees. There is also a small fountain trickling into an ornamental pond (“’Cheongdam’ originally meant ‘clear pond,’” Sunshine explains).
Private rooms are on the upper floors, including one seating eight with an interior balcony overlooking the main dining area below. When the weather is fine there is al fresco dining in a narrow brick-lined alley, decorated with original watercolors, that is open to the sky. Feeling goatish? Ask for the secluded seats set aside for romance-seeking couples.
But enough: to the grub. The menu offers a range of predominantly Italian dishes. We begin with the soup of the day (cream of chestnut: 9,000 won, or $9) and “romantic” pumpkin soup (13,000 won). The former is a creamy concoction with a pleasantly nutty flavor. The latter is also good and creamy, additionally flavored with a floating chunk of cheese. Er?but romantic? “The presentation!” wails Sunshine. It is served in a hollowed out pumpkin, and colored with a flower. Pretty.
Next, a panzanella, or Italian country salad (16,000 won). This is a large, colorful serving of romaine lettuce, plum tomatoes, beans, melon chunks, pine nuts and cheese shavings, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and pesto sauce. We dig in. The vegetables prove very tasty. What? A fresh, tasty salad in Seoul? Yup. A buyer from the restaurant is tasked with scouring the markets every day, Sunshine says.
Then, mains. Sauteed tenderloin, mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese in a white wine and cream sauce on spaghetti (25,000 won) comes in a black earthenware bowl. There is a generous portion of everything: the steak (“It comes from mushroom-fed cows!” Sunshine exclaims) is tender, the veggies large and chunky, but the best thing is the rich cheese sauce. Unlike so many of his competitors, the chef here is not afraid to lay it on thick. Excellent! Red wine marinated, oven grilled chicken (33,000 won) is just as good: Large chunks of zucchini, a roast spud and caramelized sauce, enlivened with spice and black pepper, is another strongly flavored, country-style repast.
There are 130 vinos; most, oddly, are reasonably priced. But we go for the house wines (13,000 won per glass). The white, a Chilean Carmen 2002 Chardonnay, had a rich bouquet, with a powerful blend of vanilla and ginger in the mouth. The red, a Chilean Equus 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, was light-bodied, but rich and darkly fruity on the palate.
We finished with plain vanilla ice cream, dressed with a sprig of mint. Service was pleasant and professional.
Verdict: Whines? The hefty prices merit a moan, but complaining about prices in this district is like complaining about heat in the tropics. Overall: thumbs up. Many restaurants, especially in Cheongdam, boast wondrous decor. A few offer decent food. The Soho has both, with the chef being particularly good at creamed dishes. While the ambience certainly caters to delicate artistic types, the portions would satisfy stevedores.
English: On the menu
Address: 100-30 Cheongdam-dong, near Galleria Department Store
Web site: www.thesoho.co.kr
Subway: None convenient
Hours: 11:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. (last orders) daily
Parking: Valet parking available
Dress: Cool casual?
by Andrew Salmon