The food at Ithaca, chef Kim Tae-yoon’s latest restaurant, is not easy to categorize.
The food exhibits Korean, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Italian and Greek influences, all skillfully fused into incredibly aromatic, spiced and texturally fascinating dishes.
Fragrant shiso and fennel add an aromatic layer to Ithaca’s sous-vide whelk, lotus root and tomatoes. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
“The food here has no boundaries,” said Ithaca co-owner and chef Kim, 38. Kim, an avid traveler, explained how he drew from his eclectic experiences to create the menu at his third restaurant, which opened in Sinsa-dong this July.
Kim’s first restaurant, 7 pm, which opened in 2011 and shuttered in 2016, served Mediterranean-influenced eats, and Juban, which opened in 2015 and which Kim still helms as co-owner and chef, serves spice-centric, Pan-Asian eats.
At Ithaca, Kim uses a prolific range of spices and draws from both Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. Many of the ingredients are locally sourced.
He takes all those elements to create his idea of ideal eats, dishes “that look a bit rough around the edges at first but reveal delicate details with each bite.”
Ithaca’s dessert is a classic illustration of this approach.
The dessert looks like an incredibly simple dome of white ice cream topped with bright red powder, yet a spoonful reveals that it actually consists of delicate layers of prickly pear powder, yogurt foam, milk gelato, pine shoot jam, toasted pine nuts and caramelized rice puffs.
The pine shoot jam, with its thick, rich consistency, its nutty yet fragrant flavor and its sharp tang at the end, really ties the dish together, pairing wonderfully with the pine nuts.
In yet another dish, shards of papadum -- a crisp, flavor-packed South Indian flatbread -- add a memorable pop of spice and salinity to peaches that have been marinated in a dressing crafted from “cheongkyul” -- a green citrus grown on Jeju Island.
Mild and creamy mascarpone cheese, sharp feta, fiery red peppercorns, rucola and fragrant peppermint round out this beautiful dish.
Then there is Kim’s riff off of Italian pesto; instead of basil, Kim uses licorice-like Korean mint and parsley to create an intensely fragrant paste that is used to flavor a refreshing fish and clam broth.
A pesto made with licorice-like Korean mint and parsley adds a perfume-like dimension to a fish and clam broth that is paired with delicate fish. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
When that broth is paired with fish, olives and sweet zucchini the combination manages to read like a fine dining dish while also channeling a homey, heartwarming vibe.
Until 8 p.m., only a prix fixe dinner course is available. From 8 p.m. and on, a la carte dishes can also be ordered.
Kim revealed plans are to continue to change up the menu, dish by dish, as certain ingredients go out of season and new ingredients become seasonally available.
Right now Kim is already planning on transitioning from plums and peaches to kabocha squash and grapes.
1F, 103, 640-2 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, seoul
Open Mondays through Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., closed Sundays
Prix fixe dinner course costs 77,000 won and is available until 8 p.m., a pairing of three alcoholic drinks costs an additional 30,000 won, a six-drink pairing costs an additional 50,000 won, a la carte dishes cost 5,000 won to 35,000 won
By Jean Oh (firstname.lastname@example.org