Flower Gin

It's possible my favorite bar in Seoul is a tiny place in Kyungridan called Flower Gin. It only serves drinks made with Hendrick's, it's also a flower shop and sometimes there's a small dog named Coco running around and snuffing you. It's wonderfully bizarre.

The shop itself is quite small, maybe only ten seats. There's another row of stools outside at a bar against the window, but so far we've only gone in cold weather. There's not much too see on this stretch of Noksapyeong-daero, so I'm not sure I'll take advantage of the outside stools when the weather warms up a bit more anyways. I will probably take advantage of the gin and tonics to go, though.

Inside, the lighting is low and the air heavily scented with roses. The size and the warmth make it feel cozy and inviting, but the soundtrack and decor make me wonder if I'm quite cool enough to be there. I've never associated a flower shop with somewhere that's too cool for me. Almost everything in the bar is Hendrick's branded.  Lots of alcohol branding in a bar is usually something I find obnoxious, but here it's so whimsical and surreal it only adds to the charm and makes me wonder where and for how much I can get my hands on a set of Hendrick's coasters.

For drinks I usually stick with a simple but beautifully presented gin and tonic. There are a few other drinks on the menu and I occasionally branch out but we go here more for the subdued, but by no means boring, atmosphere than for fancy cocktails. I like it as an early in the evening, figuring out your plans for the night spot though I also think it would be a good, low key but unique first date location.

Flower Gin is located at 666 Itaewon-dong on Naksopyeong-daero.

Flower Gin Bar Kyungridan Itaewon Seoul

Little Brooklyn

I often jokingly refer to our sub-neighborhood of Itaewon, Kyungridan, as "Disneyland Brooklyn" or "Little Brooklyn". It's undergoing rapid gentrification, new restaurants are opening and closing every day and food windows seem like they're becoming more the norm than sit down restaurants. We even have a Porchetta AND a Donut Plant (I know, both actually in Manhattan, but you get my point). Not long ago Meatballism, a Meatball Shop knock off opened. We started calling it Disneyland Brooklyn because while a lot of new places are going with a rustic look, it's all just a little too shiny and trying too hard to quite make us feel like we're at home. With the advent of a new grilled cheese window and a new house made sausage shop, the name "Little Brooklyn" is starting to feel less and less like a joke and more and more like just the truth.

Melting Monkey

Earlier this week, I told Dan the only thing I wanted to eat was a grilled cheese and his response was "Well, you better go get cheddar from Costco". Yes, this is my life, I have to go to Costco to get affordably priced cheddar and butter. Thankfully, the next day I remembered that there had been a grilled cheese shop under construction before we left for Thailand. Restaurants in Korea seem to be half finished one day and have a line out the door the next, so with high hopes that it would be open, I ventured down the hill and was not disappointed.

Right now, they only have a three item menu. There's the Basic, the Basic+ and Monkey Fries. I went with the Basic+ which is the basic sandwich of sourdough bread, mozarella, cheddar and gouda, onions and leeks PLUS pickled jalapenos and bacon. Let it never be said that I've passed up an opportunity to make something spicy and/or full of bacon. What I really appreciated was that the pickled jalapenos and bacon were chopped small and spread through out the sandwich. I think a lot of fancy grilled cheese places make the mistake of leave whole pickled jalapeno rings or bacon slices in a sandwich which makes it hard to eat and doesn't do a great job of melding all the flavors. The bread had a nice true sour taste but was a little bit doughy. All in all, I'd say it was as good as any grilled cheese I've gotten from the Prospect Park Food Truck Rally and at W5,500 pretty similarly priced. Will definitely eat again.

Melting Monkey is located up the street from Street Churros in Kyungridan.

Hassdog Kyungridan Itaewon

Hassdog

This was our first meal back from Thailand because we needed to grab something quick on our walk to pick up our dog from the sitters. Dan and I have been watching the construction and opening of Hass Dog with probably an unreasonable amount of anticipation because we're not really into Korean sausages and also literally ate at Bitzinger every day we were in Vienna this Summer. Of course, it would be unfair to compare a sausage window in Korea with what might be the best sausage window in the entire world, so our expectations were mostly set at "more to our taste than Korean sausage". Those expectations were met, but I wouldn't say exceeded.

We both got the Cajun sausage which comes loaded with toppings. The sausage had a good amount of heat, but that was the only thing Cajun about it. My first bite made me feel like I had been punched in the face by Christmas potpourri there was so much clove in it. I'm not opposed to some clove in sausages but it was overkill and definitely not a spice typically used in a Cajun mix. The texture of the sausage was pretty dry and crumbly and it really seemed like it could use some more fat. I'm not that in to a million toppings and told Dan I wished I had asked for it with just the bun and mustard but he pointed out that it needed everything to at least somewhat balance out the clove and hold together the crumbly sausage.

Needless to say, we weren't huge fans, but they did say they're hoping to have three or four flavors next month and to start selling packaged sausages so I'm willing to give a new business the benefit of the doubt and try it again when there's more to offer. I will say, it was much more savory and totally different than any other sausage we've had in Seoul so far.

 Hassdog's address is 305-3 Itaewon-dong.

Thirty Seven Dollars of Disapointment (A Tale of Two Nachos)

My husband and I unfortunately have a ranking of the worst nachos in Seoul. We'd have a ranking for the best nachos but so far the best nachos are the kimchi carnitas fries at Vatos which don't really count. They now have real nachos at Vatos but they're $24.00 and we may be living the comfortable life here but $24.00 nachos are being saved for a day where our despair is so deep and our homesickness so overwhelming that we would pay $100 for nachos.*

The second worst nachos in Seoul are from "On the Border", a TexMex place that I can best describe as like Chevy's but without the delicious salsa and with five extra helpings of terrible. Maybe the American locations are not awful (I'm doubtful) but the Itaewon location is not good. I believe we ordered the Grande Fajita Nachos with a mix of chicken and steak for W19,000 (slightly less than $19.00). The picture showed a platter of chips each covered in meat and cheese with heaping scoops of sour cream and guacamole in the middle. What arrived was... eight chips? Each chip maybe had a third of its surface area covered in beans, cheese and meat. There were two small dollops of sour cream and guacamole in the middle. In retaliation I used half a bottle of Cholupa. I know how hard that stuff is to get here, and how expensive. Take that, On the Border.

The worst nachos, though, the very worst nachos in Seoul (maybe the world?) came from a scotch bar/bistro near our house. Picture this: a cute sign reading "Corks and Taps Bistro and Whisky", a friendly blue wooden door that opens into a basement that's a little Brooklyn meets Dracula meets Steam Punk, an extensive scotch list, and a menu more confused than the decor. We should've walked away when we saw the menu just seemed to be an amalgamation of every Western food the chef had eaten. Pasta and salads and tapas and steak and bar food. We went with nachos because we hadn't been in Seoul long enough to answer the question "how can anyone mess up nachos?" and because we had just moved into our apartment, didn't know the neighborhood yet and had incapacitating hanger.

We ordered our nachos, a scotch Manhattan and a scotch Old Fashioned and then waited. And waited. And then our drinks arrived. They were small and, while not fantastic, better than any cocktails we'd had in Europe over the Summer so our hopes were raised a little bit. But then we waited more. And more. And finally the waiter dropped by to apologize and told us the kitchen had had to turn the deep fryer back on for our chips but our nachos would arrive shortly. Fresh chips! This was going to turn our better than we could've expected. Finally, the food arrived. I hesitate to say "the nachos arrived" because what arrived was a big basket of warm, fresh chips and a small serving dish with three compartments. One compartment held five black olives, the second compartment held one tablespoon of cold nacho cheese goo and the third, most filled compartment held marinara sauce. Not even a good marinara, the most boring, most under seasoned marina you can imagine. Glorified tomato paste. Eighteen dollars. Eighteen dollars for tomato paste nachos.

We ate every last warm chip in that basket and vowed to never return.

*or for a day when Dan is on a business trip telling me about all the Bay Area Mexican food he's eating and I feel the overwhelming urge to spend $35 on nachos and a bottle of Tecate. We'll see which happens first.

Banh Mi Three Ways

If you look at this food map, you'll see Californians are all about the Asian food. Just all the kinds. While my bluntness and tendency to yell at people on the street might be all New Yorker, my real food preferences are all Californian. GIVE ME PHO OR GIVE ME DEATH. Or, in this case, banh mi. I really love banh mi. I used to order banh mi and bubble tea for lunch every Tuesday. I can get all the bubble tea I want in Korea and I love love love Gong Cha's system of choosing your preferred amount of ice and sugar, but non-Korean Asian food has been hard to come by. Until last week, when I ate banh mi THREE TIMES. Let's compare.

Location #1: Le Hoi Banh Mi

Things are constantly changing so much in the Kyungridan/Noksapyeong area that it's hard to keep up but I'm pretty sure I was one of the first to stumble across this new Banh Mi take out window underneath 5bey. They invited us to wait inside while our sandwich was being made and we went into a small, adorable room with lanterns, a long, low bar and tiny stools. There were still some construction materials lying around, so I assume they were still in their soft opening and will have a little more indoor seating soon. We took our adorably packaged sandwich to eat as we walked.

The sandwich wasn't quite what I expected. No pickled carrots or daikon. No Cilantro. But it did have an egg on it and you KNOW I'm a sucker for anything with soft egg. The pork was thinly sliced with fresh hot peppers and I THINK a variation of Hoisin sauce. The bread had the exact amount of squish and chew you expect for banh mi and definitely was my favorite bread of all three sandwiches. Since the quick pickled vegetables are what really make banh mi for me, this didn't quite satisfy my craving but was still excellent. I will be eating here again. Maybe I'll try the veggie sandwich next time.

Location #2: Le Saigon

My husband and I just really noticed Le Saigon the other day, but upon further research, I've realized it's been there forever by Seoul restaurant standards (which basically means longer than six months but in this case means many years).

As you can see above, Le Saigon makes a more classic banh mi. I once again went with pork which was in chunks instead of slices this time and a little lighter on the sauce. I was a little disappointed that the peppers were pickled instead of fresh on this sandwich but happy about the quick pickled carrots and daikon as well as the house spicy mayonnaise. It wasn't quite spicy enough for me so I definitely made liberal use of the house made (?) hot sauce on the table. Was it the best banh mi I've ever had? No. Was it the best classic banh mi I've had in Seoul? Definitely.

Location #3: Rye Post

Rye Post is a fancy sandwich shop on Itaewon-ro that does sandwiches from a variety of cuisines, not a Vietnamese place specifically, so it's not really surprising it comes in last place for banh mi. We got this sandwich delivered and I forgot to take a picture (sorry!). While there was nothing really wrong with it, there wasn't anything really right either. They bake their bread in house daily, but like a lot of bread in Korea it was a little pale and didn't have the proper crunch and chew for a banh mi baguette. There were pickled vegetables but the sandwich was a little dry, especially compared to the other two. I will order from Rye Post again, but I'll probably be sticking to the Philly cheese steak fries, not the banh mi.

Pork Banh Mi costs W6,000 at Le Hoi Banh Mi located beneath 5bey in the Kyungridan/Noksapyeong area of Itaewon

Pork Banh Mi costs W7,000 at Le Saigon which has a location both in Kyungridan and in Itaewon proper

Pork Banh Mi costs W7,800 at Rye Post which is located on Itaewon-ro

All of these places are open for lunch which definitely gives them extra points in my book.