3 top Seoul restaurants for a foolproof first date

3 top Seoul restaurants for a foolproof first date

Make an impression, seal the deal or just get a good feed at these stylish but laidback Seoul eateries

First dates in Seoul can be a tricky business. A step above the city’s ubiquitous “sogaeting” (blind dates), they require that extra bit of effort. But not too much effort. That might freak him/her out.

It's a minefield. You don’t want a stereotypical 'romantic' venue, nor do you want a place that serves food that will leave your hands greasy or your mouth stinky. If there are large crowds, you’ll fight to make yourself heard. Which, come to think of it, actually could be a blessing if the chemistry goes awry.

The best bet is to play it safe with a casual venue that’s reasonably-priced with great food and, most importantly, serves wine and/or other alcoholic beverages. You just might need that bit of assistance

Here are three Seoul restaurants that fit the bill:

1. Trattoria Molto

With minimum distractions and a relaxing, home-like ambiance, Trattoria Molto is intimate. But not too intimate.   

The food is top quality, made out of fresh ingredients delivered each morning and prepared with the utmost care. The menu is updated on a daily basis so ask for the day’s offerings when you make your reservations.  

Trattoria Molto is best known for its authentic Italian pasta, but the steak -- Korean beef -- is a satisfying treat on its own. 

Recommended menu: Olive oil spaghetti with horse mackerel (Don’t worry, no fish odor or aftertaste will remain) and penne carbonara (not the thick run-of-the-mill cream sauce but a classic dish made of egg yolk with minimum seasoning). 

The owner and head chef will happily suggest just the right bottle of wine to go with your meal. 

566-13 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 신사동 566-13); +82 2 511 0906

2. Spain Club

For something more upbeat, a taste of Spain beckons in Seoul’s hip Sinsa-dong Garosugil neighborhood.  

Shades of fiery red dominate the decor -- walls are orange, the floor is covered in amber tiles and the lighting gives off a reddish incandescent glow. Two glasses of sangria will add to the red ambush.

Spain Club offers a diverse range of tapas, cazuela (Spanish soup), paella and jamon.

Recommended menu: Mashed potato salad with octopus tapas, shrimp and garlic stewed in olive oil (cazuela), mushroom and jamon stewed in olive oil and mixta paella.

After the meal, head over to grab a cocktail on the main Garosugil strip, which is a short stroll away from the restaurant and filled with bars and cafes.

On the back of its popularity, the restaurant has opened two other venues in the Hong-Ik University Area and Itaewon, which offer a comparable level of service.

524-30 Shinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 신사동 524-30);  +82 2 515 1118

3. Gaewhaok

Though Asian-inspired food joints continue to sprout up in neighborhoods all over Seoul, Gaewhaok is the pioneer of chic Korean dining experiences.

Opened in 2006, Gaewhaok is a modern Korean restaurant on the corner of Apgujeong Rodeo that is understated yet unique.

With a range of dishes that leave out artificial condiments and excess dressing, you and your date can savor Korean cuisine at its best. For example, the beef is grilled with minimum seasoning to bring out the texture and flavor of the meat itself. 

All dishes are served on fine ceramic plates and in antique brass bowls made by well-known Korean pottery artists.  

Wines are affordable (₩30,000-₩80,000 per bottle) with over 50 different varieties available. Ask for recommendations to complement the food.

Recommended menu: Bulgogi -- sliced and seasoned Korean barbecue; marbled beef barbecue and vegetable seasoned with vinegar; and boiled pork eaten with salty soybean and pepper paste wrapped in greens. 

A second venue has opened recently in Shinsa-dong Garosugil. 

550-8 Hochang Bldg, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 신사동 550-8 호창빌딩 ); +82 2 549 1459 

 http://www.gaewhaok.com/

A Seoul native who was schooled in the United States, Lindsey Kim is a freelance journalist and translator with academic and professional background in English literature, global affairs and business. She enjoys traveling to new locales, discovering tasty treats and scintillating sceneries. These days, she is rediscovering the enduring charms of strong hand-drip coffee and jazz music.

Read more about Lindsey Kim
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