During the pandemic, 33rd street in Koreatown was a virtual ghost town. Several months later and business is bustling. En route to Chef Byeongsoo Yu’s new Seoul Salon we passed Hutaoli, a sprawling music bar, and Rib No. 7, a Korean steakhouse with a delicious reputation, before arriving to a small metallic storefront with a small window. If not for a small Seoul Salon sign above the door, you might just pass it by. Don’t! Chef Yu, who worked at Atoboy, has many surprises up his sleeve.
As you enter a narrow corridor to the right is tightly constructed bar with wood-top stools and a line of people looking to snag one of those seats. Go a little further and you enter a towering space with rows of tables on either side packed with diners in what is best described as a minimalist atmosphere with concrete floors, bursts of neon and chairs that you might find in a modern diner.
We were taken to the back of the restaurant and up a flight of stairs into another funky space with globe lights danging above from a hung ceiling, minus the ceiling. It was here where the real adventure began. The restaurant is a tribute to Korea’s “Sool Jib” culture where people gather for drinks with friends. In this case its mainly beer. Only one type is sold – Terra – a South Korean Czech-style pilsner served from large green bottles into tasting glasses fitted with a thick sham to keep the beer cold. Aside from beer, there are cocktails, like a frothy number called Goodbye Sadness, with hints of passion fruit and peanut butter. While toasting the night away there is lots of interesting eating.
The meal begins with raw seafood (salmon, yellowtail, tuna, scallop and sweet shrimp) as well as a creamy mix of raw tuna and avocado and bugak, deep-fried seaweed used to scoop it up while offering a welcoming crunch. There are small plates of crispy anchovy pastate, Korean beef tartare and cucumber with mushroom made with a mushroom extract called Pyogo X.O. and toasted buckwheat.
The restaurant is also serving Jeon, oversized pancakes. One features wagyu and egg, while a version made with sweet potato that is criss-crossed with thin beads of sour cream, micro-greens and spices. The crispy pancake is as delicious as it is stunning. Several types of Twigim can also be found on the menu. There is fried dubu with kimchi made with pork. Another offers pork loin with pink peppercorn and black salt, while a third appears as fried elongated tubes of shimp, cheese and corn that are dunked into a house dipping sauce.
The restaurant is also known for its bowls than can be shared amongst the table, including spicy octopus over rice with red onion and watercress, and smoked BBQ chicken that is turned into gim rice made with edible dried seaweed and sesame mayo that will have you coming back for more. One of the most memorable dishes is the Mala Pork Belly, large slices of perfectly prepared pork belly made with a mala rub and crunchy cubes of jack fruit served atop torn pieces of toasted potato bun. It is unlike anything we have eaten before and plan to eat again.
There are not desserts on the menu at the moment. We are told is a work in progress. So, we settled on another round of beers!
- Thomas Rafael