Monday, June 21, 2010
Hanok (Traditional Korean House) Lunch: Sagandong 9 Beonji
Our first course at Sagandong 9 Beonji, a humble-looking guest house tucked away in a little alley near Insadong, was silken tofu covered in grilled onions and a sauce that made me wish more than anything I could pick my plate up and lick it at the end without scandalizing my straight-laced co-workers. Instead, I had to settle for incompetent attempts to get every last drop with my fork. I had expected a rigidly traditional interpretation of classic Korean dishes, so the onion twist on the tofu was a happy surprise. When the first course was followed by a sauteed mushroom salad with a slightly spicy orange vinaigrette, I knew I could expect a feast of fresh, simply prepared food full of small surprises, which is exactly what I got. Not unfil the fifth course did the traditional Korean food arrive: bossam (steamed pork), kimchi, sesame leaves, and dwenjang jjigae(bean paste soup). Even that was tweaked, though: the dwenjang jjigae had a unique flavor dominated by the plentiful mushrooms in the broth, and as someone who loves this type of soup, I can say in all honesty that it was the best I've ever had.
The several open rooms of Sagandong surround an inner courtyard where the owner's adorable dog naps, giving the place a cozy feel. The people who run the establishment also live there, and rooms are available for lodging, but be warned that guests sleep on the floor in traditional fashion. The owner said that during the summer months, diners can eat out in the courtyard under the evening sky, which sounds heavenly. Sagandong is in the middle of the city, but the place exudes a bucolic stillness that, combined with the tasty dishes, left me feeling relaxed and overwhelmingly content. By the end of our three hour lunch, even my perpetually stressed out co-workers put down their phones for a moment and gave the rocking chair in the corner a spin.