LIFE&STYLE

Fine French food at affordable prices

By Jean Oh
  • Published : Jan 21, 2011 - 18:26
  • Updated : Jan 21, 2011 - 18:26

For some reason or other, French cuisine ― outside of France, that is ― has come to be often associated with fine dining, an association which has its many perks, except, of course, when it comes to the bill.

In truth, however, eating French is not synonymous with breaking the bank.

Here are two excellent establishments that specialize in delicious and affordable French fare.

La Celtique

Located in collegiate Sinchon, La Celtique whips up traditional Breton crepes under the skillful expertise of crepier and Brittany native Charles Duval.

In other words, Duval and fellow crepier Yu Yeong-jin’s delicate, savory and sweet creations are highly authentic, because crepes hail from the northwest region of France where Duval was born.

Duval grew up surrounded by round, black griddles and wooden paddles ― the two key tools necessary for making crepes.

In the open kitchen at La Celtique, patrons can watch Duval and Yu deftly spreading batter with paddles on their own griddles.

The resulting thin pancakes are so delicious that fillings are rendered unnecessary.

The sweet crepes are chewy and dainty ― best accented by the simplest of adornments, like the caramel beurre sale dessert crepe (5,500 won), where house-made salted caramel sauce imparts a sweet gloss to the dish without taking away from the joy of biting into the fondant, folded pancake itself.

La Celtique’s galettes (the general term for savory crepes in Brittany) are equally good, especially when paired with a glass of Canadian cider. 
La Celtique’s La Tartiflette, a marriage of Gruyere, potatoes, bacon and onions over a 100 percent buckwheat crepe, is a meal in itself  (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

“We use 100 percent buckwheat flour for our galettes,” said Yu, explaining why their galettes emerge a wonderfully deep brown, all soft, grainy and nutty.

For a hearty and filling galette, order La Tartiflette (15,900 won), a marriage of Gruyere, potatoes, bacon and onions that is a meal in itself.

The thin buckwheat pancake is liberally dotted with nuggets of potato, bits of bacon, sweet onions, and slathered in molten cheese.

Rich, earthy bite after bite begs for a sip of their sparkling cider, and soon, after the accompanying salad ― a crisp bed of greens with a balsamic vinegar-based dressing ― is finished, there is hardly room for dessert, even though it is a must.

While La Celtique is a creperie, Duval and Yu also concoct delicious fare like their platter of homemade sausages and French fries (9,500 won) and their baked-to-order molten chocolate cake (4,000 won).

Dessert crepes cost 3,000 won to 6,500 won. Galettes cost 7,900 won to 15,900 won. Cider by the glass costs 4,000 won. Mulled wine by the glass costs 4,500 won.

To get there go to Sinchon Subway Station Line 2, Exit 3. Walk straight until you pass Paris Baguette. Turn right at Nature Republic. Walk straight until you pass Coffee Bean. La Celtique is located on the second floor, above a tteokbokki shop.

Opening hours are from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. La Celtique is closed Mondays.

For more information call (02) 312-7774.

Culinaria 12538

Sequestered near Dosan Park in Sinsa-dong, owner-chef Baek Sang-joon’s Culinaria 12538 proves fine dining can be as pleasing to the wallet as it is to the palate.

For 44,000 won (tax included), patrons can enjoy a five-course prix fixe lunch, complete with palate cleanser and petit fours.
Culinaria 12538’s wallet-friendly lunch tasting menu complete with palate cleanser and petit fours. Pictured here: amuse-bouches, inhouse baked bread, roasted vegetable and cheese parfait, oxtail ravioli, Korean hanwoo steak, caramelized ice cream with balsamic-
caramel-white sesame tuile, petit fours

The menu reflects the Culinary Institute of America alumnus’ desire to create simple and elegant dishes with a French backbone.

Aided by a team of six, Baek works his culinary magic in an open kitchen adjacent to a pristine grey and blue space where well-trained wait staff clad in crisp, white aprons serve each course with detailed descriptions and subtle care.

Painstaking attention is paid to even the finest detail, from the bread, which is baked twice a day, down to the butter ― a small round of French Beurre d’Isigny ― that accompanies it.

Diners can select one of two starters, two first and two main courses before commencing with a meal so expertly orchestrated and timed that no effort is required save for the savoring of each dish.

A bite-sized trio of amuse-bouches start the meal.

From the right, a silken smooth cube of potato tofu precedes a small glass of tomato jelly bearing a concentrated sphere of cherry tomato honey confit. A luscious lemon butter cream speckled with herring caviar rounds out the delicate beginning.

After an intermission with warm in-house bread and butter, a less-than-pleasing roasted vegetable and cheese parfait presents the only flaw in an otherwise perfect lunch, giving one pause to consider that the maesaengi (a type of seaweed) and oyster starter might have been a wiser choice.

The cheese parfait, however, is more than compensated for by an ensuing shallow bowl of oxtail open ravioli, where a round squid ink pasta skin adds an accent of black to the golden truffle-scented consomme.

“I braised the oxtail in red wine in French fashion,” Baek said, explaining how he made the tender beef filling that lay under the chewy ravioli skin.

His mushroom consomme, flavored with dill and chervil, is so good that table manners are set aside in order to tip the dish and ease out every last spoonful.

A slightly abrasive grapefruit sorbet textured with wasabi flying fish roe and shiso jelly acts as a fragrant palate cleanser.

The hanwoo (Korean beef) steak that follows does not disappoint. Expertly pan-seared so that the crust is crisp, each slice of buttery beef is meltingly tender.

Rarely can a restaurant get it right from the savory down to the sweet, but chef Baek and team have not only mastered the art of the steak, they understand the art of dessert.

Scooped over a tangy balsamic glaze, caramelized ice cream embedded with nuggets of cookies and ensconced with a balsamic-caramel-white sesame tuile forms a wonderful medley of salty, sweet, creamy, and nutty flavors.

Not one to dispense with formalities, Baek ensures that his patrons complete their meals with coffee or tea and a plate of dainty petit fours, allowing diners to linger over their lunches and let the tide of aromas, textures, and flavors slowly sink in until they are ready to make their exit.

Culinaria 12538’s lunch tasting menu costs 40,000 won (tax not included). The menu changes every three months on average. Owner-chef Baek says that the current menu is slated to be served until after Valentine’s Day, with a few more options to be added soon. The dinner menu costs 100,000 won (tax not included).

Opening hours are from noon to 3 p.m. for lunch and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner, daily. On Sundays, Culinaria 12538 is only open for lunch.

To get there, go to Gangnam-gu Office Subway Station Line 7, Exit 3 and walk toward Hakdong Intersection for about 10 minutes. Turn left at the intersection. Walk straight until you see Horim Art Center on your right. Culinaria is located behind Horim Art Center, to the right, at the end of the alley, on the second floor.

For more information call (02) 515-0895.

By Jean Oh  (oh_jean@heraldcorp.com)