Meet Betty, a supplier of royale cocktails

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Meet Betty, a supplier of royale cocktails

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It all started with a mojito cocktail on a casual Tuesday night. But here’s the thing about this Havana export to Korea: Since mint leaves are perishable, bartenders say they avoid serving the cool, green thirst-quencher. That explains why Seoul’s mojito-seekers have to pay for the price of an entire mint tree. For months, guzzling down a jug of mojito was something I had to indulge in my dreams ― until Betty, a dining bar located right behind fashion boutiques in Cheongdam-dong, came along.
My first encounter with Betty’s mojito was reasonably tall, minty and a bit dry, but at 7,000 won ($7) plus a 10-percent VAT, who could complain? I let the bartender know it was too dry and within minutes he brought another mojito, this time a tad sweeter. I gave him a nod and settled down, but curiosity killed the silence. “You got a mojito royale?”
He was eager to learn about Paris’s favorite drink, so I told him to add a splash of champagne to the mojito. “What an inspiration!” he said, “Be our guest!” Cheongdam-dong finally had mojito royales.
My tablemate started with a basic gin-and-tonic but got curious about Betty’s martinis, which were rumored to be good. The bartender shook up a delectably fruity apple martini with a fresh apple carpaccio inside. Cocking his head, he said, “This is the ‘It’ drink in Berlin.”
At Betty, the Cosmopolitan is out, the Millennium is in. Okay. A glass of Millennium, perched with a tiny twirl of lemon peel on the brim, tasted half like an apple martini and half like a Cosmopolitan, so subtly aromatic that I couldn’t taste the alcohol.
We began to peruse Betty’s long menu. What’s appealing about Betty goes beyond her soothingly entertaining house music and nightclub lighting; regulars can feel comfortable with Betty’s prices, with most dishes under 20,000 won. That’s an anomaly for the fanciest and the most expensive restaurant row in Seoul.
“We’re fed up with places where people have to show up wearing Versace and spend 1 million won for a meal,” said Kong Yoon-young, who oversees Betty’s operation. “Of course, some really cocky Cheongdam-dong crowd complained about the price ― it’s too cheap for them. But Cheongdam-dong’s super-posh days may end soon because prices in this area are getting ridiculous.”
Many shops in the neighborhood are owned by the building owners themselves, he said, which is how even extremely slow businesses can get by. Sky-high leases in this happening district have also driven many stores out of business, or to start charging a ludicrous $40 for a bowl of spaghetti or $600 for a bottle of whiskey.
Betty begs to differ by offering a casual lounge with chef’s specials and drinks at affordable, or at least reasonable, prices. The dining bar is dark and spacious with a ceiling high enough to cover two stories. On one end of the hall is a private lounge for 10 people and another private room, this one for karoake, which also seats about 10. All together, Betty has room for 100 guests. It also has a stage, which is usually covered with black curtains, to use for special events. The whimsical illustrations, multiple disco balls, mirror trees and wall decorations looked too crowded at first, but all the mismatched decor somehow put people at ease.
For side dishes or meals, assorted seafood, grilled on two long skewers (13,000 won), came out in generous portion; chunks of scallop, squid, prawns, marinaded in balsamic sauce are smokey and succulent. A plate of fried rice (15,000 won), which went well with the seafood, was lightly spicy with kimchi bites. A five-star hotel chef who recently tried the grilled button mushroom (12,000 won), I was told later, was thoroughly impressed with the Betty chef, as grilling mushroom requires special expertise. As it turned out, each mushroom, hot and oily, had a perfect texture and fresh taste, nicely infused with roasted garlic and tangy with balsamic sauce and olive oil.
I’m not into Korean burgers made with spongy buns, but Betty’s Twin Burgers (9,500 won) and burger steak (19,000 won) were great for a late dinner or after-party hour. Betty’s patties were not too salty and had just the right percentage of beef and seasoning, grilled just right. All the burgers, incidentally, come from Kraze Burgers, a local burger joint with the same owner.
On another occasion after a late-night fashion event, my friends craved Betty’s fresh Italian ice cream (7,000 won), which comes in three flavors: cream cheese, green tea and chocolate. While wiping the plate clean, we raved about how relaxing it was, not having to worry about swiping our credit cards one night and then eschewing parties for a month.
Over my next few visits to Betty, the mojito became, quite naturally, my usual drink. Now I ask the bartender to serve syrup on the side, so I can adjust the sweetness. Sipping my perfect mojito, I had a revelation: Going to Betty is like going to a hair salon ― the more you get to know it, the better it gets.


Betty
English: On the menu, some spoken.
Tel: (02) 541-5058.
Hours: 5:30 p.m.-3 a.m. daily; closes at 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. (Off this Sunday)
Location: 4th fl. of Komo Bldg; Behind the Louis Quatorze building in Cheongdam-dong.
Parking: Valet.
Dress code: Smart casual.


by Ines Cho

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