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The common made trendy with pairing and presentation: How about some bubbly to go with that salted squid?

Dec 16,2019
Top: The view of the kitchen and bar seats at Euljiro Bonus, the new place opened by popular Euljiro Boseok in central Seoul. Middle: Duck noodles at Sanok, a modern Korean restaurant run by chef Kim Jeong-ho, who used to be a chef at Jungsik, southern Seoul.
From left: A plate of Korean charcuterie, called pyeonyuk, is topped with seasoned vegetables at Euljiro Bonus in central Seoul. The look of the kitchen counter at Geumnamvin, central Seoul. Left: Wines available at Wickedwife in southern Seoul. [MIAJEON, LEE SUN-MIN, GEUMNAMVIN, WICKEDWIFE]
With all the new restaurants popping up around town, it’s never easy to choose where to eat.

You might want a hip place with food that suits your taste, but which is the kind of place your parents might like, and somewhere that would be of interest to your friends visiting from overseas, a place where they could enjoy local food and drinks but in an environment in which they are most comfortable.

What might work is one of the newly-opened restaurants and bars serving casual-style Korean food that looks more like Western-style food, and all in places that don’t look like a traditional Korean-style home, or hanok.

Who says Korean food can only be enjoyed at Korean barbecue places or at restaurants that serve dozens of banchan alongside rice and soup, just like many have seen on TV or read about in books?

These restaurants aren’t shy about using all kinds of fermented sauces, like gochujang or doenjang (fermented soybean paste), yet make it in a harmonious way so that even the first-timers to the world of Korean cuisine can find it fun and familiar.

They also diverge from common Korean restaurants, which mostly sell beer and soju - the distilled drink in green bottles that can be found everywhere in Korea. Wines, sake and imported or draft beer are available, depending on which place you choose.

These places have been welcomed by youngsters who are looking for trendy places to take their foreign friends visiting Korea, and are the kind of place to take parents out for a dinner.

The ever-hip, go-to spot is Euljiro Bonus on Eulji-ro. The area, which is notable for buildings that are almost a century old, has been the neighborhood to visit to keep up with the retro trend that is dominating Korea these days.

The classic buildings that used to house printing shops and the like have been renovated and become restaurants and bars to welcome customers, especially those from the nearby offices in Gwanghwamun and Euljiro in central Seoul after work, as well as those who don’t mind traveling a bit farther.

One of the bars with the longest lines of people waiting to get in is Boseok.

While Boseok started as a fish cake bar selling all kinds of alcoholic drinks, the new Bonus, which just opened early this month, focuses on serving half-dried fish.

If offers Korean-style rice bowls, with rice and tea and topped with half-dried fish.

The restaurant also plans to have a fish tank filled with fresh seafood allowing customers to get a better sense of what they are eating.

Some noodle dishes are seasoned with salted squid alongside gochujang sauce, and pyeonyuk, often compared to Korean style charcuterie. Visiting foreigners might find a similarity between the Korean dish and French cuisine.

One more Boseok is scheduled to open soon south of the Han River.

Another restaurant offers up jeon, which is often said to be Korean-style pancakes, as its main food. Miajeon in southern Seoul serves all kinds of jeon made with either beef or vegetables, which many Koreans enjoy with a bowl of makgeolli, or Korean fermented rice wine.

But since the particular food can also go well with other drinks because of its savory taste, the restaurant decided to put wines up front to suggest pairing the very Korean food with something different. The establishment is decorated with colors so that it doesn’t look like a common place that serves very humble jeon.

Not too far away from Miajeon is another restaurant that serves more modernized Korean food. Chef Kim Jeong-ho, who used to be the head chef at two-Michelin-starred Jungsik in Seoul, decided to open his own restaurant a few months ago.

He has decorated his restaurant so that it looks trendy yet casual for food and drinks. One of the special dishes he makes is duck noodles, which is inspired by the classic combination of duck in soup seasoned with perilla.

The particular soup is popular among those who go out to the outskirts of the city and eat grilled duck and soup, which usually comes afterwards.

The dish may seem like a Western-style creamy dish, yet the taste of it is very much Korean.

Some restaurants like Geumnamvin are located close to local markets to get fresh goods to make local food. The restaurant is right next to Geumnam Market in central Seoul, where a variety of seasonal food can be bought fresh.

Because the restaurant is away from the common restaurant-heavy districts, like Apgujeong, Cheongdam or Garosu-gil in southern Seoul, or the trendy Seongsu-dong or Mangwon-dong areas, locals have been more enthused to check out the new neighborhood.

Even a wine shop doubling as a restaurant at night makes a move to pair its wine with more casual Korean food. Wickedwife, located in the trendy Garosu-gil in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, runs a pop-up event where the popular tteokbokki snack, spicy rice cakes, is paired with wine.

Bunsik is a term that is usually used to indicate food widely available on the street, including fish cake soup, mandu (dumplings), gimbap (seaweed rice rolls), rice, vegetables rolled in gim (laver) or pork intestines, and the shop decided to match wine to such food.

The pop-up includes a glass of wine paired with either fried mandu or tteokbokki, and the event is only on Thursdays, Friday sand Saturdays for lunch.

It was supposed to end the first week of this month, but the shop decided to continue the pop-up event on those three days every week, and may even consider offering the pairs on its lunch menu.

There are more experiments utilizing the versatile daily food that locals in Korea eat.

Mamalee Market, a store that serves banchan - a variety of assorted side dishes Koreans usually eat with rice and soup ranging from marinated vegetables to braised meat or fried fish - is doing a pop-up for about two months since early this month at Hyodo Chicken’s first branch in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul.

Dishes prepared not only have a platter of vegetable banchan, but also steamed pork accompanied with aged kimchi and fried Spanish mackerel.

To see what pairs well with the food available there, different types of alcoholic beverages including wine, are served for those who want to make their gatherings of friends or colleagues more entertaining.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]