Bistro D offers same-old, but with a touch of flair
Well, the capital’s restaurateurs don’t seem to think so ― judging by the bland, copy-cat hotel-style selections that are regurgitated with depressing frequency on their menus. Example? Take the recently opened Bistro D in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul.
This is the kind of stylishly-designed joint we’ve come to expect in this part of town. Upstairs is a nicely decorated coffee shop, dominated by a huge bookcase of cookbooks. Downstairs, entered by a broad flight of stairs, is a cavernous dining area in which stand a number of unique decorative features. In it is a mammoth Mona Lisa, an equally enormous oval mirror and a fabric red rose that must be 10 feet high and five feet across. In the open kitchen, brass pots and pans hang for effect, and parts of the dining room walls are cut away, their interiors filled with what looks like faux moss.
So the interior design is pretty original, but there is nothing on the menu that every man ― and his wife, his children and their dog ― has not seen many, many times before: salads, sandwiches (ham and cheese, burgers, etc,) pastas and risottos, mains (steaks, lamb chops, sea bass, etc, etc), cakes? yawn.
What we have here is a very limited, very dull selection. Apparently, the management’s aim is for people to “feel comfortable” with the dishes. Okay, there is something to that, I suppose, but what about the execution?
We start with onion soup (8,000 won) and melon, blue cheese and parma ham salad (12,000 won). The French generally refuse to serve onion soup without lashings of flavor, but Bistro D has defanged this classic to the point where, alas, it tastes like watery broth. The salad is a huge platter piled high with foliage, textured with pine nuts and offering a decent amount of cheese. But while I support Koreans’ belated acceptance of blue cheese, the salad is ― as usual ― overdressed with vinaigrette. So far, so bad.
Now here’s the funny thing. In most restaurants, it is the appetizers that are the tastiest. At Bistro D, the main courses are a huge improvement on the first courses.
A mozzarella and parma ham sandwich (12,000 won) offers a nicely toasted bun, and the ham and cheese is set off with a herby tomato sauce. But it was the fries that rang my bell: they were nearly perfect. Slim cut, golden brown, lightly salted and sprinkled with a dash of dried herbs.
Ribeye steak with onion sauce (30,000 won) was a large chargrilled piece, at once tender and juicy, served in a thick, dark gravy with mushrooms. This is definitely one of the capital’s better chunks of cattle; my only complaint is that it wasn’t served with fries.
But I leave the best for last: the seafood and saffron risotto (15,000 won) was a generous plate of wet, juicy risotto. The saffron was greatly in evidence, and you couldn’t ask for more seafood. Half submerged in the bowl was a cornucopia of Neptune’s bounty: clams, mussels, chunks of squid and tuna.
The wine list was more interesting than the menu. There were four pages of liquid grape, with the strongest selections being French, Italian and Chilean. Oddly, white wines were underrepresented. Most bottles were reasonably priced, in the 40-50,000 won ($39 to $48) range. We ordered a Saltram Mamro Brook Barossa Shiraz 2003 (53,000 won). This baby offers a smoky, charcoal nose, a burnt jam palate, a smooth body and a spicy aftertaste. Definitely a red-meat wine.
The service was a comedy of errors. First, our appetizers arrived before our cutlery. Then, 30 seconds or so after being served starters, we were served mains. Next, we were offered a sandwich we had not ordered. In terms of efficiency, Fawlty Towers had nothing on this place ― but the waiters were friendly, and all our complaints were speedily addressed.
Verdict: not a place I would dash to, but for unadventurous diners who enjoy eating in the kind of modish location that southern Seoul specializes in, Bistro D fits the bill.
Address: 627 Podo Building, Shinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu.
Hours: Mon - Fri: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Weekends: 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
Parking: available (2,000 won)
Dress: smart casual
by Andrew Salmon