Elegant Italian fare on ‘veggie hill’
A recent addition to the ever-growing Italian bridgehead on the peninsula is Bistecca on “veggie hill” (trans: the hill that winds from the Grand Hyatt down to the U.S. Army base). This restaurant joins a number of pricey eateries and drinkeries in the area, such as Casa JJ and Jell’s Wine Club. To use a term wildly popular in government circles hereabouts, the upper reaches of veggie hill are, one could say, becoming a “hub” of up-market wining ‘n dining.
Inside, white clothed tables are set on a polished wood floor and candles light the gold patterned wallpaper. At the back is a large window overlooking the built-up valley in the shadow of Namsan. The ambience is elegant, though some might consider it a touch formal.
This being a Saturday night ― and we having no reservations ― we park our backsides at the single table on the flower-bedecked terrace out front. There is not a lot of traffic and the sun is sinking. Ah. How very pleasant. All we need now is some service, and I am about to snap my fingers and bawl “garcon!” when the waiter appears ― unbidden.
“Your menu, sir?”
“Cheers squire, don’t mind if I do.”
This document is quite the piece of work: The dishes are not just described, but also photographed in glowing technicolor. For information purposes this is fine, but I feel it clashes with the rather formal ambience. Pah, a minor complaint ― let’s get to the grub.
We begin with a salad: iceberg heart with blue cheese dressing, gorgonzola, grilled bacon and fresh tomatoes (12,000 won or $12.80). Like all the dishes which follow, it is very attractively presented. It is also very good: Chefy has not skimped on the gorgonzola, the toms actually taste of toms (in these days of factory farmed veg, this is a minor miracle). Even the blandness of the iceberg ― of which I am not usually a fan ― provides an appropriate platform for the accompanying ingredients. A carefully designed and very enjoyable salad.
If anything, our second appetizer is even better. Deep fried mozzarella with anchovies (7,000 won ― which is suspiciously good value) is a delight. This brick of mozzie is deep fried, so the exterior is crisp, while the inside is warm and semi-melted. It is dressed with a tomato sauce, and of course, the anchovies deliver all the flavor you could ask for. Excellent.
Bistecca of course means steak in Italian, and this should give a clue to the house specialty. The flagship dish is Black Angus ribeye beef (35,000 won), and it is good. What we have here is a generous steak of almost American proportions. It is really ― and I do mean really ― juicy. It is almost as tender as it is moist, and drizzled with a light touch of balsamic vinegar. It comes with grilled zu-cchini, pepper and onion, as well as a dollop of mash and an asparagus spear. To justify wallet damage this hefty, a dish has to be pretty good, but I have to say (grudgingly) that here, the price is, indeed, justified. As far as I can remember, this is the most delicious chunk of butchered beef I have sunk my incisors into in Korea.
There is a decent wine list, and I am pleased to see that they serve a number of vinos by the glass, as well as half bottles and single bottles. I order a 200ml bottle of Henkell Trocken for a very reasonable 10,000 won. This Teutonic sparkler is bone dry, light and zesty: very appropriate as an accompaniment to the starters.
We finish things off with a coffee and tiramisu, which both passed muster, but I was enjoying the meal so much I neglected to note down prices. Sorry!
A word on the service. The two, smartly attired (waistcoats and dickie bows) young lads were pleasant, charming, professional and proactive ― so kudos to whoever hired and/or trained ’em.
Verdict: While the tables are set a little too close together for the kind of intimate conversation that accompanies romance or business, Bistecca should definitely be on your hit list. When you have done all the hotels but are looking for that somewhere a little bit special, this fits the bill.
Tel.: (02) 792-7746
Hours: 12 noon-3 p.m., 6-10 p.m., seven days.
Location: 5-12 Itaewon 2-dong, Yongsan-gu. Just down from the Grand Hyatt on Namsan.
Subway: Itaewon, Noksapyeong
by Andrew Salmon