A side of health advice served with your meal

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A side of health advice served with your meal

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One way to get noticed at the latest “It” spot in town, Gorilla In The Kitchen, is to accompany a tall Asian man incognito in dark shades. When that happens, the activity there comes to a halt ― people stop eating, drinking, talking and start flashing camera-ready phones. The eastbound rumor that the hallyu (Korean wave) star Bae Yong-jun, aka Yonsama, owned a restaurant travelled at sonic speed, and droves of Japanese women camping out near the unfinished site since earlier this year foretold the coming of a new destination in Seoul. Day and night, tourists hover in and around the handsome slate gray building, hoping to spot their dream boat. For the fans, though, the chance of running into Mr. Bae is “nil,” according to the managers, as Gorilla wants to prove itself as a truly successful restaurant serving delicious food and offering excellent service ― without the association with its mega-star owner who can easily attract hundreds, if not thousands, of Japanese fans, to bombard the clean, loft-style restaurant, which can cater to up to 160 diners over two spacious floors, two terraces and a small private room.
Another way to get noticed at Gorilla is to chat with Lim Jong-pil, the celebrity personal trainer who has sculpted Mr. Bae’s body for the past five years. A connection, however distant, to Mr. Bae’s body can be made at the trainer’s small glass cubicle, a central feature on the restaurant’s first floor. Once inside, Mr. Lim, a small but hugely built man with a broad smile, introduces himself: “Hi, I’m Bae Yong-jun’s personal trainer.”
There, diners can get health check-ups. Mr. Lim is one of four trainers and one nutritionist operating state-of-the-art machines that measure such things as blood pressure, weight, height and levels of body fat, muscle mass, water and balance. He advises that diners take the tests before caffeine intake and food consumption.
Mr. Lim explains Gorilla In The Kitchen was named after the image of a large workout buff or “gorilla,” and so it is more than just a restaurant, but a regime that offers free personal consultations and dishes to help maintain good health and a fit body. “We don’t serve any fried or excessively spicy or salty dishes, and we have more grilled chicken breast than anywhere else,” said Mr. Lim, going through a spiraled white notebook of menus, detailing calories, nutritional contents and health benefits. Most dishes are available in two serving sizes, “human,” or regular, and “gorilla,” or large portions, and they are also marked “Muscle Smart” or “Heart-Smart.”
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So far so good. Are we ready for a seriously healthy repast?
Two recommended starters, a large plate of romaine salad with black olives, ripped bread and parmesan cheese slices in a sweet citron dressing and labeled “lutein,” or “good for the eyes”(13,000 won plus 10 percent VAT, ) and octopus carpaccio and arugula salad served with citrus dressing (15,000 won and containing selenium, an antioxidant) are decent, good looking and nutritionally correct dishes to impress those who had been cautioned during the check-up.
The notoriously belated arrival of the dishes, I was told later, is also part of healthsome cooking in the kitchen. So sharing is inevitable.
A bottle of Italian sparkling wine, Asti Spumante (40,000 won), from the well-priced wine list, arrived at room temperature, so had to be chilled in a handsome silver bucket that matched the round chrome lights hanging all over the restaurant.
Our main dishes looked pretty but almost sterile in presentation. Chili pepper chicken breast with mashed potato (25,000 won) looked like a lab specimen to be tested on humans or gorillas and tasted just of the described ingredients ― very plain. Well, they say it’s good for you.
Oven-baked pineapple chicken breast (24,000 won) was a pile of melted mozzarella cheese, strips of grilled zucchini and pineapple chunks on top of grilled chicken. This “Muscle Smart” dish nicely combined the plain meat and vegetables, as if prepared for a wrestling champion going for a big medal next week. A generous sprinkle of fleur de sel was desperately needed to bring out the taste of the well-cooked ingredients, but I was, again, warned of the adverse effect of overuse of sodium chloride in everyday restaurant food.
When we found Gorilla’s best-seller, pasta with shrimp and tobiko (flying fish’s roe) with cauliflower sauce (17,000 won), to be a disaster, we decided to forget about health and body altogether. With overcooked noodles and a sweet creamy sauce (They said it was NOT cream ― okay), the pasta disqualified itself even for a friendly match against Italy.
We exhaled a breath of relief when one more recommended choice, oven-baked pistachio crusted sea bass steak with lemon sauce (27,000 won), didn’t taste like a Weight Watchers’ recipe. But, the pressure to watch our waistline continued with desserts. Two out of three sweets on the menu were dried or fresh fruits dipped in yogurt, not that we mind simple, tasty and low-calorie fruits for desserts.
When it comes to dining at a fancy restaurant associated with Yonsama, decadence and vanity prevailed quite naturally. Sipping strong coffee over a plate of grilled banana with cinnamon, honey and cranberry syrup (8,000 won), we got distracted by a tall, handsome man arriving in a sports car. Does Yonsama never stop by his restaurant after all?


Gorilla In The Kitchen
English: On the menu, English and Japanese spoken
Tel: 02-3442-1688
Web: www.skitchen.co.kr
Hours: 11 a.m.- midnight daily (last order 10 p.m.)
Location: In front of Dosan Park in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul
Parking: Valet
Dress code: Smart casual or elegant


by Ines Cho
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