Dining out in Seoul : Traditional Korean, world cuisine, casual dining, fine dining, royal cuisine – whatever your taste buds seek, all can be found in Seoul. This post is part of the restaurant review series here on the Korea Blog.
Some restaurants are baffling. They aren’t the regular casual neighborhood eatery nor can they be called fine dining, either. They teeter on the border with the right amount of sophistication yet are friendly and not intimidating. I love these restaurants, and Gaeseong (개성) is one of them.
Gaeseong is a Hanjeongsik (한정식) restaurant, a Korean Table d’hote. The restaurant is known for its set menus named after the four Gracious Plants (사군자): plum (매), orchid (란), chrysanthemum (국) and bamboo(죽).
How can you tell if a Korean restaurant is good? You check out the banchan (side dishes). If a restaurant pays attention to their banchan, you can always be sure they pay equal attention to their main dishes. Gaeseong’s banchan were light and well seasoned in reasonable portions. (Of course, like any other Korean restaurant, you can always ask for more without any extra charge.)
The meal comes with so many dishes, even without the banchan. Clockwise from top left: water kimchi and pumpkin juk (죽), japchae (잡채), fried pumpkin slices, cold potato noodle salad, pan-fried tofu block with assorted vegetable topping, cold marinated jellyfish with cucumbers and Korean mustard sauce, raw skate fish marinated in spicy red pepper sauce with cucumbers and water celery, and salmon hweh (회). I didn’t care much for the cherry on top of the potato noodles (although I suspect it was to add a touch of color in the presentation), but the noodles made up for it. I could’ve eaten a whole plate of those noodles. I was also very impressed with how the vegetables were cut; chefs and cooks with excellent knife skills put that sense of precision into every single dish and it definitely shows.
Steamed stuffed Korean zucchini. The garnish of red pepper threads and pine nuts weren’t only for show and added flavor and texture. The soy sauce wasn’t overpowering, either. I ate a bit with the sauce and a bit without; the dish was delicious either way.
Boiled octopus slices are eaten dipped in a tart gochujang (red pepper paste) sauce. It’s a good appetizer or palate chaser due to its simplicity.
Surprise! A sudden sweet dish appeared in the middle of the meal, along with mini mung bean jeon. Almost like fried tteok, the rice flower jeon came with a generous dollop of honey. Some like it, some may not. I am in the ‘not’ category. I actually like them, but only when eaten separately as a snack and with a bowl of tea. Not in the middle of the meal. The mung bean jeon was good, though. Just the right texture.
What’s a Korean meal without galbi? In this case, it’s galbijjim, cooked so perfectly the meat was just falling off the ribs. Considering how many other dishes that were in the set menu, the portions were just right. The galbijjim can be ordered separately from the a la carte menu where the portion would be considerably larger.
Where there is beef, there’ll also be pork. Bossam is boiled pork eaten upon a Korean cabbage leaf with marinated Korean radish slices and shrimp jeot. Again, the meat was treated perfectly and was the right texture, not too dry or mushy.
Broiled hwangtae (황태, high-quality dry pollack) with mushrooms. Because the fish is dried and stored before cooking, it gives an intensity of flavor and a chewy texture. It’s one of those dishes which you either love or hate, mostly due to the texture. I’ve heard people mention how it’s like “chewing soft wood splinters” but the fish gets softer as you chew and the flavor comes to life. In my case, the likeability of this dish relies heavily on how it’s cooked. Although not the best I’ve had, Gaeseong’s hwangtae was definitely on the ‘likeable’ side.
Tteokguk is also a specialty. The tteokguk is the special joraengi tteokguk (조랭이 떡국), where the tteok is shaped like little peanuts instead of the regular oval slices. With the set menu you get a small bowl to get a sufficient taste. Like all the other dishes, the broth was light yet filling. No heavy seasoning.
In the hotter months, you’d complete your meal with a bowl of cold noodles instead of a bowl of hot rice. Gaeseong opts for kimchimari guksu (김치말이국수). (Read about them and other cold noodles in this post.)
The restaurant isn’t that large but the hall seats several tables and there are private rooms for groups. The staff are very polite and helpful without being overbearing. The owner is very friendly as well, and will explain the dishes in great detail should you ask.
Although there isn’t a wine list, wine glasses are available upon request and you may bring your own bottle as long as it is discussed beforehand when making reservations. Menus may also be discussed for groups and not follow the regular menu dish-per-dish.
Along with its set menu, the restaurant offers many a la carte dishes such as bibimbap (비빔밥), yukgaejang (육개장), kong guksu (콩국수) and samgyetang(삼계탕) during the summer.
- Opening Hours 11:00 ~ 22:00 (Mon ~ Sun)
- Closed for major holidays
- Tel : (02) 542-7317
- Address : Seoul, Gangnam-gu, Sinsa-dong 574-7 (2nd floor)
- Reservations recommended
- Metro station Apgujeong (Line 3, exit #5). Walk away from Hyundai Dept. Store and towards Hyundai High School. It is across the street from the high school, in the alley and directly in front of Kwanglim Church.