A side of health advice served with your meal
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.”
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
Hours: 11 a.m.- midnight daily (last order 10 p.m.)
Location: In front of Dosan Park in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul
Dress code: Smart casual or elegant
by Ines Cho