PIERRE GAGNAIRE a Seoul 19

PIERRE GAGNAIRE a Seoul

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Wow! I finally got to have a meal here. PIERRE GAGNAIRE à Séoul (listen to SeoulPodcast #128 to hear how Stafford pronounces it) is widely considered to be the best restaurant in Korea. The menu has been out of the price range of this little food blogger, but luckily Sarah at Seoul in the City was able to get us a complimentary lunch. On top of that, Chef Pierre was in town for a week, and we got to meet him–actually, I ended up meeting him three times that day. I’m giddy around great chefs, like a Korean tween meeting 2PM. Chef Pierre was very polite, warm, had a firm handshake, and looked you directly in the eye, full of confidence without arrogance. I’d say that described the style of his restaurant too.

The restaurant occupies the top floor of the Lotte Hotel, near City Hall. Our seat was by the window, overlooking north Seoul.

As we settled down with an opening glass of champagne, the maitre d’ stopped by and showed us some lovely black truffles, waving his hand to spread the dark forest scent. They had a special W300,000 truffle menu going on. This is quite a way to upsell. Despite the great temptation, I chose a different menu. I wanted to see how Pierre Gagnaire highlighted local Korean ingredients.

Immediately some little amuses came out. I started to learn the style of the restaurant. They serve a lot of little things in each course. Each little thing is highly complex, usually mixing flavors that push your palate to the edges. Even though they describe everything in detail, it’s so much information that you need to keep your menu with you as a cheat sheet.

The lens is making this look larger than it is. It’s around the size of a thumbnail in real life. I don’t remember the details of the first line of tasties, and they weren’t written in the menu. But I think the yellow stuff was saffron. It was tiny and light. Explosion of flavor.

The menu is seasonal, as it should be. So what we had today likely will be different when you go. (Click for the latest menu.) This is to give you an idea of the style and flavors. What stood out to me most, other than the warm professional service, was how the flavors were so surprising. Dishes were playful interpretations of classics, familiar dishes with surprise ingredients, or completely new flavor combinations.

More little delicacies to start the meal.

The bread came out warm and sliced tableside with nice butter.

Amuses

Now, I thought what had come out before were the amuses, but the menu said these were the amuses. They were more like appetizers to me. We were to eat them clockwise from the center. First up…

Root vegetable veloute with foie gras chantilly. Mmm… I rarely get to eat foie gras. It usually turns out to be once a year. Deep flavors on top of deep flavors.

Apple ice cream with pineapple, endive, and grapefruit marmalade. The apple chip was so thin and delicate. The ice cream and marmalade gave a pleasant chill and were full of natural fruitiness. Not overly sweet.

Beetroot jelly with acidulated cream a la georgienne. I’ve really grown to love beets. The acidulated cream, to me, is a fancy way of saying “sour cream.” So this was a play on borscht. A chilled borscht. Going more with the winter root vegetable theme.

Beef tartare mimosa, sweet potato pulp with mustard. The flower pollen looking granules are egg yolk. I was expecting a play on yuk hui, but it was more French with a cameo by Korean sweet potatoes.

Osole oyster with ginger, guava infusion, and frosted banana. Surprising flavors here. I was not sure what to make of the banana, but the ginger was just perfect. Grabbed the shell and slurped it down with gusto.

Fishing from Jeju

Bouillabaise jelly, tomato concasse with anchovies and cauliflower aioli. I was told there was smoked herring in this, too. It reminded me of a Scandanavian breakfast.

Ok dom fillet, roasted and poached in butter in mussels marinere, baby squids and leek. This dish stood out the most to me, and I can still feel it in my mouth. Ok dom is a fish whose scales can be fried and eaten. In this case, the filet was placed scaleside down on an oil pan and cooked until they puffed up and raised. Cool effect. Crispy like fried pork rinds. The fish itself was moist and perfectly cooked, along with the oceany mussel and squid marinere. I used the bread to mop that up.

Pissaladiere–arugula, onion, provolone, and fish liver. Elegant yet homey.

The Cheese

The cheese course was optional. We opted for it.

Endive ice cream, walnuts, Bleu d’Auvergne, jellied juniper berries, lamb’s lettuce, and walnut oil. Savory ice cream that was strong with blue cheese. Classic cheese plate flavors done up like an ice cream sundae.

Okay, now we get to the parts that I don’t remember well. I think that was Camembert mousse on the bottom. The red jam was omija, which makes perfect sense. Omija tastes a lot like cranberries, which greatly match ripe cheeses.

A type of blue cheese terrine with lychees and a tangerine sauce.

Gruyere cubes with coconut yogurt and white chocolate.

Chocolate Souffle Dessert Course

Manjari chocolate souffle biscuit with praline parfait. Oh yeah! Hot fluffy chocolate souffle coming my way. But wait, there’s more!

Drizzle some warmed chocolate in the middle.

Top with praline ice cream. Funny that we missed National Chocolate Souffle Day by one day. Yes, there is a Chocolate Souffle Day.

I deserve this. So do you.

Arabica jelly with Armagnac, orange marmalade, cappuccino. Pleasant adult cocktail dessert. Have your afterdinner coffee and brandy at the same time, why not?

Pear tartlet with cinnamon and dark chocolate. Lovely! By this time, I was really stuffed.

Coffee and Petit Fours

Here we finish with housemade rose marshmallow, a delicate bon bon, and I think the one on the right was yuja in a what I surmised was a sugar straw. In the rear was a green tea finisher. Not too sweet, which was welcome.

And that was it. The lunch took a leisurely two hours. Again, the service was really at the top of the game. The food was so surreal that, well, you can see that it left me speechless. I hope the photos can tell the story well enough. This really is the pinnacle of fine dining in Seoul–as if you needed to hear that from me. I truly wish that more people in the Korean food industry would dine here and take notice of the details and atmosphere. Pierre Gagnaire excels at fine dining because it makes the diner feel welcome and comfortable. They don’t push you out the door. In fact, they let me linger for another hour to absorb the view a little more. They’re not snobby, they’re personable. It’s not the cartoon stuffy waiter theater that passes for fine dining in many Korean “upscale” restaurants. They’re a model for what the future of Seoul’s fine dining scene can be.

Thanks again to Sarah, Lizzie, and everyone who made this possible. Please inform me about some of the dishes I forgot or didn’t get quite right.

 

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PIERRE GAGNAIRE a Seoul, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
  • Hannah

    SO JEALOUS. I dream of eating here one day!

    • http://tastingkorea.blogspot.com/ Tasting Korea

      Well, actually, it was the Lotte Group that invited Gagnaire to come to Seoul and open up a restaurant, so I’m pretty sure the Korean restaurant industry is aware of it. I don’t think you can really judge Korean fine dining as a whole as you have admitted on this blog that you haven’t been to many restaurants due to the cost. 
      This restaurant is actually run by a Korean company specializing in restaurants and the hospitality industry. I’m sure Gagnaire does have a say in its operations, but to disregard that this is a joint operation with a Korean company is disingenuous or ignorant. 

      • http://zenkimchi.com ZenKimchi

        Oh great, so Ask A Korean’s pretentious troll has decided to generate false controversy and cheap hits to their blog.

        I said that I usually can’t afford to go to eat fine dining often, but it doesn’t mean I don’t go. Usually I’m a guest of experts in the industry, or The New York Times, or other media who (I will admit) have more experience than me. And they have had the same observations as me. I also did not hide that Lotte Group partnered with Gagnaire, but that fact really has no relevance to the post. They had no hand in PG’s service standards.

        • http://tastingkorea.blogspot.com/ Tasting Korea

          “I also did not hide that Lotte Group partnered with Gagnaire, but that fact really has no relevance to the post. They had no hand in PG’s service standards. ”

          Well, you didn’t mention it either. And it looks too convenient when it serves your point about the decline of standards in Korean fine dining. How do you KNOW that Lotte had no hand in the PG’s service standards? 

          “I said that I usually can’t afford to go to eat fine dining often, but it doesn’t mean I don’t go. ”

          You implied that you couldn’t go to that many restaurants in Korea due to your pocket. “You see, there’s a reason you don’t see many restaurants on ZenKimchi. Going to restaurants can be expensive. I don’t have a trust fund. I’m not rich. Yeah, I make decent money, but do you think my wife will let me spend that all on restaurants? She’s Korean.”

          I actually commented because I disagree. Feel free to remove my reply. I don’t expect much traffic from your blog and to be honest, that wasn’t on my mind when I wrote the comment.  

          • http://zenkimchi.com ZenKimchi

            I have no agenda beyond promoting Korean food and the Korean restaurant industry. And if they look like clowns when international experts visit, it hurts Korea. I’ve observed your behavior on TK’s blog, too, and you exhibit a level of immature paranoia and a mythical yangban nationalist agenda that bites you in the butt. Mentioning Lotte, again, had no relevance. You’re inserting a message there that did not exist. You’re seeing ghosts.

            Too bad, because I do agree with some of the points on your blog, but your social retardation has really killed off some potential allies for your message.

          • http://tastingkorea.blogspot.com/ Tasting Korea

            I’m sure you do want to promote Korean food as that is your business. But personal attacks do not help your argument. Anyone who reads what is posted can determine for themselves who is being “immature”, etc. The fact remains that you did NOT mention LOTTE when they actually do have an important hand in how the business is run. Instead of coming clean about it, you chose to deny that. If you weren’t aware, then just say so. But from reading your blog, I think you are more aware than that. If you talk about how a business is run, isn’t it due diligence to mention ALL the key players involved? Instead, you chose to serve your own argument by ignoring that. That is what I criticize. Do your research and then, make an argument. Sometimes, you just need to admit you were wrong. I think that’s the main issue here.  

          • Anon

            Dude. Shut up. The point is – Lotte or not, Pierre Gagniere has beautiful food and it was yummy. I’m Korean, I love Korea, and it’s obvious that ZenKimchi loves Korea and Korean food as well – isn’t tat what matters? Looks like you’re picking a fight about something stupid. The service here ISN’T always that great. The only reason you may see it being otherwise in places like the States is because servers operate off of tips. They don’t here. No incentive on their parts unless their good mamas taught them right. Fine dining here generally =showing off the size of their wallets. Not a criticism. Showing off wallets in the States can = cars, houses, bling, etc. Anyway. I’m babbling. But you’re picking a fight over something trivial. You sound like … wait for it … a pompous windbag. Yes.  Or just someone who’s dissatisfied with their own life so they have to make other people’s lives miserable. 

          • http://tastingkorea.blogspot.com/ Tasting Korea

            Try reading this blog and THIS POST and then, comment. As for the rest of your reply, you sound like you’re describing yourself. You should learn to take your own advice and not be a jerk, but I guess some people like to post under pseudonyms like anon or JohnF (http://www.blogger.com/profile/12514623723017963091) to get their point across, “Korean”. There’s nothing wrong with critical discussion. It’s much more respectable than being an anonymous troll with no reading comprehension. 

          • Kundun

            I don’t think Tasting Korea has any real knowledge or insight about the fine dining industry.  Mentioning the Lotte group in a review about PG is about as relevant as mentioning the Time Warner in a review of Per Se in New York.  Like in the case of Thomas Keller, the only reason why PG opened a restaurant in Seoul was because of a) money and b) the ability to call the shots and do things his way.  Why would someone who has a number of Michelin stars do otherwise?  It is not Lotte’s restaurant; it is PG’s just as Per Se is Keller’s restaurant, not Time Warner’s.  The reviewer has no obligation to plug Lotte other than to mention where the restaurant is actually located.  

          • http://tastingkorea.blogspot.com/ Tasting Korea

            You should do more research before criticizing. Lotte Group actually initiated the venture with Pierre Gagnaire. It took quite a bit of negotiation (months) on their part for him to agree as he was not really interested in the beginning. I don’t think money was the issue as there is a lot of money to be made in the Korean restaurant industry and Lotte has the resources to compensate him accordingly. Of course, I can’t say what they offered as I was not there, but there is a lot of money to be made in the Korean restaurant industry. 

            If you knew anything about how businesses operate,  especially big companies like Lotte, you would know that they don’t just throw money at their partners without a guarantee. There are certain standards of quality assurance that they will demand contractually because by affiliating themselves with another partner, they are taking a risk on their brand. So they will make sure that their brand is protected by enforcing quality assurance standards in their contract. 

            I’m sure that Lotte and Gagnaire came to a mutual agreement and that is why he is running a restaurant in Seoul, maybe more. I think it’s fair to bring up that a restaurant is a joint venture when you are discussing its operation. If you are going to discuss things in a critical manner, it’s to be expected that your argument will be evaluated in the same way.

            Comparing Time Warner/Per Se to Lotte/Pierre Gagnaire is so ludicrous a comparison. In Lotte’s case, they are actually investing in the construction/operation of the restaurant. Time Warner is merely renting out space for Per Se, which is operated by the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. You do not know why Keller or Gagnaire opened their restaurants, so can’t say anything about that. 

          • Kundun

            The comparison I made is not “ludicrous.”  Everything you say about Lotte’s courtship of PG (which is obvious to everyone) is very similar to the case of Time Warner and Thomas Keller, which can be verified in the first chapter of Michael Ruhlman’s The Reach of a Chef, which describes the whole economic venture of a big corporation deliberately recruiting a star chef.  Keller is not some guy renting space in the Time Warner Center as you say.  In both cases, it is the chefs who are responsible for the standard and quality of the food and service.  Just as nobody in their right mind would give Time Warner the credit for Per Se’s food, nobody ought to do the same for PG.  I’ll give Lotte credit for the dog crap they sell at Lotteria but to say they are directly responsible for what appears on the plates at PG is, to use your own word, ludicrous.

          • anotherJoe

             why did i just read all that Anonsense…lol…i come here for the nice pics joe takes…anon, your blog needs better pics…

          • http://tastingkorea.blogspot.com/ Tasting Korea

            You should do more research before criticizing. Lotte Group actually initiated the venture with Pierre Gagnaire. It took quite a bit of negotiation (months) on their part for him to agree as he was not really interested in the beginning. I don’t think money was the issue as there is a lot of money to be made in the Korean restaurant industry and Lotte has the resources to compensate him accordingly. Of course, I can’t say what they offered as I was not there, but there is a lot of money to be made in the Korean restaurant industry. 

            If you knew anything about how businesses operate,  especially big companies like Lotte, you would know that they don’t just throw money at their partners without a guarantee. There are certain standards of quality assurance that they will demand contractually because by affiliating themselves with another partner, they are taking a risk on their brand. So they will make sure that their brand is protected by enforcing quality assurance standards in their contract. 

            I’m sure that Lotte and Gagnaire came to a mutual agreement and that is why he is running a restaurant in Seoul, maybe more. I think it’s fair to bring up that a restaurant is a joint venture when you are discussing its operation. If you are going to discuss things in a critical manner, it’s to be expected that your argument will be evaluated in the same way.

            Comparing Time Warner/Per Se to Lotte/Pierre Gagnaire is so ludicrous a comparison. In Lotte’s case, they are actually investing in the construction/operation of the restaurant. Time Warner is merely renting out space for Per Se, which is operated by the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. You do not know why Keller or Gagnaire opened their restaurants, so can’t say anything about that. 

          • Anon

            so what’s YOUR name, Tasting Korea? 
            yeah.

          • http://tastingkorea.blogspot.com/ Tasting Korea

            Ok, Anon :)

  • RebelSweetHrt

    That chocolate souffle is driving me crazy!!! I can’t bear to look at it anymore! *envy envy* :)

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  • http://themetropolitanlounge.blogspot.com/ The Bartender

    Wow, that must have been amazing to meet him. Also, the food at his Seoul location looks spectacular! Have you been to any of his other restaurants such as the one in Tokyo as it’s a much closer proximity, his only US outpost in Las Vegas or his flagship in Paris? If so, how do they compare? I’ve been to his Tokyo and Las Vegas locations and they were both spectacular. I would love to visit his Seoul restaurant in the future along with his flagship in Paris.

    • http://zenkimchi.com/ ZenKimchi

      I’ve only been to this one. Tell me how the Tokyo and Las Vegas ones are.