Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Brunch at Cafe 62-16

A typical Korean breakfast consists of soup and rice, so the dearth of high quality brunch spots in Seoul means that on the weekends they're always packed with expats looking for a taste of home. Despite that, I would confidently wager that Seoul has more waffles per capita than any other city in the world. In cafe-filled neighborhoods like Samcheongdong, where we spent this Saturday, over half of the available retail space seems to be taken up by places that serve waffles and coffee. Here they're considered desserts instead of breakfast items, though, so at 11 or 12 in the morning, the cafes are all nearly empty.

This Saturday, Dan and I were in the mood for a hearty, western style meal, but instead of fighting the crowds at Suji's, we decided to make Cafe 62-16 in Samcheondong our brunch spot. As anticipated, the normally hopping cafe was empty when we arrived around 12:30.

A look at the menu revealed several varieties of waffles, crepes, and flams. You're probably wondering what flams are, but I'm afraid that I don't know how to explain without referencing a certain round Italian food, and the sign outside of Cafe 62-16 instructed me not to call it a pizza. Frankly, we weren't quite sure what it was or why it wasn't a pizza, even as we were eating it. I thought that a little internet research would clear matters up, but the flam proved surprisingly elusive. From the little information I was able to find, a "flam" seems to be a flammekueche, for which I found an explanation on Serious Eats:

"The name of this dish, either in French or in Alsatian, refers to a flame—even though there is no flame. But originally, these tarts were baked in a village baker's oven, and during the baking, the flames of the fire licked into the oven over the tarts. This is a very traditional Alsatian dish, still popular today, in fact more popular now than it was 30 years ago. In the southern part of Alsace, where I come from, this dish was once rare—but now it is served all over Alsace. Many Alsatians go to small restaurants for their light evening meal, and this is what they often have—with Alsatian wine. Tarte flambée is like a pizza, but made with bacon, onion, cream, and fromage blanc. You usually cannot get fromage blanc in America, so I frequently use cottage cheese, and it works very well ... when I go home to Alsace, we make a feast of eating Flammenküche."

Though the definition of "flam" above is somewhat rigid, I discovered that there's a chain called "Flam's" in Paris that serves many varieties of flams with toppings as diverse as those you'd usually find on pizza. Actually, I just looked at the above sign more closely and realized that it proclaims they're popular in France and Germany. Regardless of the origin, I was both highly suspicious and curious about the flams, and the cranberry and camembert option in particular. Curiosity won out, and we ordered it along with a blueberry and banana waffle.

Our eyes grew several sizes when the decadent, whipping-topped waffle tower was set on the table in front of us, and I couldn't resist diving nose first into some fluffy cream. Clearly this waffle ventures into dessert territory, but wow, is it delicious. The waffle itself is subtly flavored with green tea, and the airy texture beneath the slightly crispy exterior is magical.

Although I was aesthetically won over by the pretty, red-flecked camembert and cranberry flam that arrived next, I was puzzled by my first bite. It was a new flavor combination, and cranberries can certainly be overpowering, but after a few slices I realized that if I folded the pieces over and let the flavors melt together a little more, it was really delicious. The slightly crisp tang of the green onions, the salty camembert, and the tart cranberries all complemented each other.

By that time, our friend Shira had arrived, which was an excuse to order more food. Inspired by our flam success, we ordered the mushroom flam, which came with ham--not as unique, but still tasty. Despite the silly, Seussian rhyming opportunities inspired by the ham flam, when I return to Cafe 62-12, I'll be ordering the cranberry one. Actually, the apple and cinnamon variety is also tempting.

The most difficult part of brunch for me is typically having to make the choice between sweet and savory--sometimes I'll end up ordering a side to compensate for whichever component the main dish lacks, but that's expensive and leaves me feeling stuffed. The waffle and flams at Cafe 62-16 turned out to be the ideal amount of food and completely satisfied my sweet and salty needs. I highly recommend this cafe for brunch if you want your western cravings fulfilled but dread the weekend lines as much as I do.

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