11 (Sun) December 2011
Tagliatelle allo Zafferano
at Villa Sortino
-Itaewon, Yongsan, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
with W and DJ
For the final 20 posts of this cycle, I hope to make every one count.
Around the turn of the millennium, in a newspaper article featuring interviews with several supposed bigwigs of the local hospitality industry, one of them is quoted as saying that Villa Sortino is where Italian chefs in Korea go to eat. That was ages ago. And who knows whether the guy was a credible source. But whenever I’d passed by the place, a prominent fixture in central Itaewon for years, that’s the thought that passed through my mind.
The meal at Villa Sortino this evening ranks among the finest dining experiences with Italian cuisine in my life, certainly the best in Korea, definitely the best in recent memory, perhaps the best ever.
For starters, the bread was excellent, as well as the olive oil.
Next was a calamari salad comprising cresson and arugula plus an intriguingly cut whole squid grilled to medium-rare perfection and drizzled in a buttery dill dressing that enriched the juicy squid while providing a bright herbaceous counterpoint.
The perfectly cooked pasta, which seemed to be handmade judging by the chewy-soft texture that earned the simultaneous approval of the wife and me for the first time in history (I like it al dente, whereas she likes it mushy), was tossed in an exquisite saffron-infused seafood stock reduction, along with scallops, shrimp, arugula, and cherry tomatoes.
Finally, the fish was a cod fillet with tomatoes, asparagus, black olives, and garlic cloves in a light yet impossibly savory wine sauce that had us sopping up every last drop with the complimentary bread.
Of course, it didn’t come cheap. The calamari was 16,000 won, the pasta 25,000 won, the fish 51,000 won – hell, the beer was 12,000 won – all plus 10% VAT. Although overpriced by any reasonable standard, the food was so good that we weren’t complaining. I wouldn’t say that we got our money’s worth, but at least we got something for our money.
Villa Sortino is now my favorite Italian restaurant.
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