Stunning pizza with truffles lifts Gramercy above the restWhen Ian Schrager unveiled his grand vision for the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York earlier this year it caused a style earthquake. The tremors rippled through the design world and have now hit Seoul’s dining scene.
The recent opening of Seoul’s Gramercy Kitchen made an impressive impact on the city’s trendsetters who are now rushing to reserve one of the 110-plus seats available each night. The restaurant has been full for the past four weeks ― even if there’s no relation between the New York hotel and the Seoul restaurant, which is operated by the Chosun Hotel.
It seems that Mr. Schrager’s transformation of the Gramercy has been enough to turn the hotel’s name into a global brand among the style elite ― at least the Chosun Hotel’s decision to borrow the name for its new restaurant has been enough to guarantee Gramercy Kitchen its 15 minutes of fame. The restaurant is an ambitious project for the Chosun group, being located a long way from the hotel and right in the heart of the city’s most competitive dining zone.
As the name suggests, Gramercy Kitchen’s concept is contemporary New York-style upscale dining, and the elements of Manhattan chic are all in place. There’s a cocktail bar with fresh orchid blossoms on marble stands, a conspicuous work of art in macrame by the American artist Arthur Duff, a glass-paneled wine cellar and a semi-outdoor terrace ― the spot most coveted by well-heeled diners ― plus staff who have been trained to the standards of a five star hotel.
All these fancy accoutrements come with a steep price tag, as Gramercy expects its deep-pocketed diners to splurge on a menu that is a la carte only. The dishes are mostly Italian, created by 11 Korean chefs led by Arberto Lee, who hails from the Chosun Hotel kitchen. And beware: If you say “yes” to a greeter’s casual suggestion of champagne as you come through the door, 18,000 won ($21) per glass, plus 10 percent VAT, will be charged to your bill. On my visit with two tablemates, a hearty “yes” to some fizzy water (San Pellegrino) cost 16,000 won (two bottles).
Starters for the evening, recommended by manager Andre Song, were flounder carpaccio with a tomato herb dressing (23,000 won) and fried calamari with spicy tomato sauce (18,000 won). With Italian cuisine and seafood cooking being competitive fields in this country, neither dish was outstanding, especially given the portions (tiny) and price (steep).
For drinks we chose a bottle of 2004 Bourgogne “Pinot Fin” from Domaine Geantet-Pansiot, which is a pleasantly light and affordable red that sells for under-$30 overseas, but here it cost 85,000 won.
A stunning piece of work on Gramercy Kitchen’s list of piatti secondi is the truffle pizza topped with Fontina cheese, French truffle and frissee (23,000 won). The super-thin crust is densely flavored with pungent cheese and mushrooms, making for an ideal marriage with the frisee greens on top. My tablemates also could not stop eating a small pot of steamed mussels (18,000 won) cooked in a creamy soup seasoned with celery, green onion and garlic. We also indulged madly in the middle of the dinner with the famous Frantoio di Santa Tea, the extra virgin olive oil with the memorably intense aroma from the Reggello plateau near Florence. A basket of bread disappeared in an instant, each bite soaked with a spoonful of this heavenly oil.
The main dishes demand a high standard of quality because each is priced close to the $40-mark which has suddenly become de riguer for top flight New York eateries.
While Korea is a beef country, steak here is often disappointing and will remain so until top-grade Angus beef is imported officially. At 47,000 won, Gramercy’s “dirty steak” is served with barbeque sauce, a mini cup of french fries and beet risotto. The meat was grain-feed hanwoo (Korean beef) ― rosy and lean with sweet fat oozing out. While the portion was thick, its size was between small and minute but the overall flavor was pleasant.
The staff said Gramercy is strong on risotto, especially the one made with squid ink, so we asked for a full-size portion (21,000 won). It was small for a meal on its own but adequate when selected as one of several side dishes. The glistening purple-black rice was dotted with bits of squid and shrimp which made for a delicious bouquet of tastes.
There is a long list of tempting desserts at Gramercy, each priced around 12,000 won, but after all that olive oil bread my choice was strong coffee (8,000 won) with a shot of Vaccari sambuca (8,000 won) on the side.
Gramercy Kitchen will start opening for lunch this month. Despite the restaurant’s average performance in some quarters, I know that’s when I will return for my dream lunch: a whole truffle pizza with a glass of Veuve Clicquot ― a perfect Gramercy treat for one.
English: On the menu, Spoken.
Hours: 6 p.m. until last guests leave (last order at 10:30 p.m.)
Location: MJ Building 621-2 Sinsa-dong; Opposite Jasaeng Hospital, south of Seongsu Bridge
Dress code: Business or elegant
by Ines Cho
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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