Flavors of Thailand enervate Seoul’s long monsoon evenings

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Flavors of Thailand enervate Seoul’s long monsoon evenings

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On sweltering, steamy Korean summer evenings, I can’t think of anything better than piquant and peppy Thai food. And thanks to a boom over the past few years, the capital has seen a sudden proliferation of Thai restaurants, especially in southern Seoul.
Thai Orchid (02-792-8836), the first Thai restaurant in Seoul, has since 1996 catered to the international community in Itaewon, and it still is the only place to serve wonderful Thai iced tea, a fragrant herbal tea made with sweetened condensed milk, among other authentic treats prepared by Thai chefs. But, it wasn’t until 2003, when two restaurants in Cheongdam-dong, After the Rain (02-3446-9375) and Park Lounge (02-512-6333), began to impress well-traveled local diners, that the Thai trend started all over the city.
After the Rain, previously privately owned, is now a franchise restaurant (www.goaftertherain.com) operated by CJ Foodvill Inc. The Korean company recently opened another Thai restaurant, Bangkok9, in Apgujeong-dong. Other recent Thai additions to the area include Pink Spoon (02-514-0745) and Chatamalin.
Chatamalin is a cafe, bar and restaurant in one, right in the heart of hip Apgujeong-dong, making it convenient and casual for weekend partiers to begin their evening before late-night events nearby. The bar, in front of a fancy green decor inspired by lush jungles, serves mojitos (8,000 won, $7), a minty cocktail perfect for early summer evenings. They don’t sell wine by the glass, so we had no choice but to order beer or cocktails, but the Cuban cocktail went well with the Thai dishes. Although the bartender tinkered with the original recipe by adding a “secret” fruit extract, sipping the cold cocktail in a corner that reminded me of a hotel lobby, we enjoyed the drink’s subtle peach and mint flavors.
The recommended dishes for first-timers included: a plate of satay chicken (6,500 won), soft shell crabs in yellow curry sauce (28,000 won) with a bowl of regular ― not Jasmine ― steamed rice. With non-Korean spices, both dishes carried flavors distinctive of Southeast Asian cuisine. By the end, we had wiped all our plates clean, but I knew that the meal wouldn’t make it to the top of my rather extensive culinary experiences.
On another evening when my appetite had fallen flat at the start of the monsoon season, I asked my friends to join my first meal at Bangkok9. Compared with the management’s After the Rain, an upscale Thai restaurant, Bangkok9 is casual and cheaper; most dishes cost under 20,000 won. But, to our surprise, “cheaper” at Bangkok9 didn’t translate as anything less in the important elements ― food quality, presentation, service or atmosphere.
With chandeliers hanging in the spacious, open hall between gilded framed mirrors and white brick walls, and neatly folded fabric napkins and heavy plates brought to us by courteous and friendly employees, dining at Bangkok9 was stylish and elegant without any intimidation.
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We desperately wanted to whet our appetite for cool starters ― spicy glass noodle salad (8,000 won) and crabmeat and crispy tofu salad (8,000 won) ― with cold and fizzy Tsingtao beer. Yam woon sen, the cold noodle salad, topped with fresh tomato, basil leaves and minced meatballs, was delicate yet spicy as it would be in any decent Thai restaurant in culinary capitals of the world. For our second choice, asparagus slices, tender strips of pink crabmeat, chopped red and green peppers and cream-colored tofu slabs gave a mouthful of tropical colors and light spices.
Bangkok9 serves one of the best-selling dishes from After the Rain, stir-fried soft shell crabs in curry sauce (19,000 won), which goes well with regular steamed rice (1,000 won). The tasty crabs and sauce, good for three to four persons, made our chopsticks dance excitedly.
The Chinese influence in Thai cuisine arrived in a plate of sizzling fried noodles with seafood (13,000 won). The hot creamy sauce was poured onto the white cloud of crispy vermicelli noodles; we “cooked” the noodles in the steaming sauce portion by portion, and everyone loved it.
For our final punch of Thai spice, we ordered rice noodles with prawns in a hot and sour broth (14,000 won). It was a very simple dish: flat noodles in the popular tum yang kung soup. Slurping the exhilaratingly spicy noodles, I was happy to have found a delicious way to pass the dreary, hot monsoon season.


Bangkok9
English: On the menu, spoken
Tel: (02) 3443-6609
Hours: Noon-10 p.m. daily
Address: 638-7 Seowoo Bldg. Sinsa-dong; opposite Hanyang Apt. Bldg. No. 62
Parking: Available
Dress code: Smart casual or elegant

Chatamalin
English: On the menu, spoken
Tel: (02) 540-0199
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight daily except for Sundays
Address: 89-20 K2 Bldg. Sinsa-dong, behind Homestead Coffee.
Parking: Valet
Dress: Smart casual or elegant


by Ines Cho
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